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Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Yearsby David Talbot
Synopses & Reviews
For decades, books about John or Robert Kennedy have woven either a shimmering tale of Camelot gallantry or a tawdry story of runaway ambition and reckless personal behavior. But the real story of the Kennedys in the 1960s has long been submerged — until now. In Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, David Talbot sheds a dramatic new light on the tumultuous inner life of the Kennedy presidency and its stunning aftermath. Talbot, the founder of Salon.com, has written a gripping political history that is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.
Brothers begins on the shattering afternoon of November 22, 1963, as a grief-stricken Robert Kennedy urgently demands answers about the assassination of his brother. Bobby's suspicions immediately focus on the nest of CIA spies, gangsters, and Cuban exiles that had long been plotting a violent regime change in Cuba. The Kennedys had struggled to control this swamp of anti-Castro intrigue based in southern Florida, but with little success.
Brothers then shifts back in time, revealing the shadowy conflicts that tore apart the Kennedy administration, pitting the young president and his even younger brother against their own national security apparatus. The Kennedy brothers and a small circle of their most trusted advisors — men like Theodore Sorensen, Robert McNamara, and Kenneth O'Donnell, who were so close the Kennedys regarded them as family — repeatedly thwarted Washington's warrior caste. These hard-line generals and spymasters were hell-bent on a showdown with the Communist foe — in Berlin, Laos, Vietnam, and especially Cuba. But the Kennedys continually frustrated their militaristic ambitions, pushing instead for a peaceful resolution to the Cold War. The tensions within the Kennedy administration were heading for an explosive climax, when a burst of gunfire in a sunny Dallas plaza terminated John F. Kennedy's presidency.
Based on interviews with more than one hundred fifty people — including many of the Kennedys' aging band of brothers, whose testimony here might be their final word on this epic political story — as well as newly released government documents, Brothers reveals the compelling, untold story of the Kennedy years, including JFK's heroic efforts to keep the country out of a cataclysmic war and Bobby Kennedy's secret quest to solve his beloved brother's murder. Bobby's subterranean search was a dangerous one and led, in part, to his own quest for power in 1968, in a passion-filled campaign that ended with his own murder. As Talbot reveals here, RFK might have been the victim of the same plotters he suspected of killing his brother. This is historical storytelling at its riveting best — meticulously researched and movingly told.
Brothers is a sprawling narrative about the clash of powerful men and the darker side of the Cold War — a tale of tragic grandeur that is certain to change our understanding of the relentlessly fascinating Kennedy saga.
"Those looking for new insight into John F. Kennedy's presidency will want to read this meticulously researched chronicle. Talbot, the journalist-founder of online newsmagazine Salon, sticks to the facts, starting with a timeline of then-attorney general Bobby Kennedy's actions on Nov. 22, 1963, the day his brother, the president, was killed. Immediately suspicious of the CIA, the Mafia and the Cuban exiles they're involved with, Bobby made it his mission to expose this 'shadowy nexus'; much of the book concerns the Kennedy brothers' relationships with members of those factions as they dig for the truth. Talbot profiles friends and enemies, taking readers into JFK's strained work with Pentagon officials who famously pressured him to take a chance on the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. Later chapters deal with the aftermath of JFK's, and then RFK's, assassinations, and the final chapter contains Talbot's incisive conclusions on those momentous years. Talbot's only weakness is in covering too much-with more than 150 original interviews, Talbot is forced to move too quickly from event to event, making his numerous characters hard to keep straight. Still, it's an admirable feat of reporting, and one that will spark conversation among conspiracy theorists, historians and others who lived through the Kennedy era." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In June 1964, Robert Kennedy was in Poland when a student asked him who was responsible for John F. Kennedy's assassination. 'There is no question that (Lee Harvey Oswald) did it on his own and by himself,' Kennedy unequivocally replied. Privately, however, he had his doubts. Confiding his suspicions to a few confidantes, Kennedy became 'one of the first — and among the staunchest — believers in... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) a conspiracy,' David Talbot writes. He instructed aides to investigate the killing and, had he lived and won the White House in 1968, he would have pursued these suspicions more vigorously. Talbot, the founder and former editor-in-chief of Salon, has written a fast-paced narrative of Kennedy's search for his brother's killers. Talbot is careful to sidestep the question of who was actually responsible for the assassination. He dismisses the lone gunman theory as a crock and wonders about the CIA, Cuba and Mafia involvement. He bases his conclusions on more than 150 interviews he did with aides to the Kennedys, relatives of ex-CIA agents and anti-Castro exiles. His sources believe for the most part that Oswald didn't work alone, and their suppositions form the heart of Talbot's Manichean chronicle of two brothers who battled forces of darkness for the soul of modern America. By 1963, Talbot says, President Kennedy 'was determined to demilitarize relations between the nuclear powers before catastrophe could strike' and 'was no longer a Cold War liberal.' What's more, Kennedy had confronted America's 'war establishment.' In Talbot's view, the president wanted peace with communists across the globe, enraging the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some Cubans had also come to loathe Kennedy for refusing to liberate Cuba, and the Mafia scorned his brother, who led a crackdown on organized crime as attorney general. Although his claims of Kennedy's dovish intentions are exaggerated, Talbot does several things well in this book. First, he offers a solid overview of the conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's 1963 assassination. Second, he reveals that some trusted Kennedy aides believed in a conspiracy; that a few Congressional investigators felt that the CIA and other government institutions stonewalled the inquiry; and that right-wing criticism of Kennedy on such issues as communism and civil rights was such a staple of early '60s politics that the Kennedys began to fear for their lives at the hands of homegrown extremists. Finally, Talbot reveals that Robert Kennedy had his doubts, hidden from public view, about the Warren Report. He ably recounts the more progressive impulses of both brothers — detailing President Kennedy's admirable restraint during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Robert's stirring worldwide crusade against the twin evils of racial injustice and economic deprivation — a campaign waged from Johannesburg to Indianapolis. Yet the evidence of a conspiracy in Dallas is circumstantial and thin. Talbot interviews friends and relatives of CIA operatives, who were possibly involved in the plot to kill the president. He depicts higher-ups in the 'national security bureaucracy' who said nasty things about Kennedy and presumably had murderous intentions, and he quotes from Kennedy loyalists who want to get to the bottom of the crime. But none of this adds up to a conspiracy. Because Robert and some of his aides doubted that Oswald acted alone doesn't mean that a plot existed. Nor does it follow that verbal sniping by CIA agents or the Joint Chiefs is evidence of government involvement in the murder or a cover-up. Talbot is convinced that the Kennedy brothers were assassinated because of what they believed and what they did. They sought to usher in an era of nuclear arms control, advance social justice, and attack the criminal underworld. They confronted the most sinister impulses in American politics — and were cut down. Thus, the assassination of each man is infused with meaning. But history doesn't normally unfold in such compellingly moral patterns. Conspiracy buffs and Warren Commission critics are likely to praise 'Brothers' as a courageous book — a stiff challenge to the mainstream media and complacent political establishment. Indeed, Talbot's book is among the more engaging works in the JFK-conspiracy literature. But there is little here to establish a convincing link between Kennedy's 1963 murder and his brother's assassination five years later, and it is hard to trace the convoluted motivations, connections and whereabouts of the various possible plotters who allegedly were pulling the strings in Dallas. In the end, then, it is unlikely that 'Brothers' will alter the terms of the assassination debate: A majority of Americans will continue to believe that there was a conspiracy in Dallas. But the historical evidence — as Vincent Bugliosi's newly released 'Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy' shows — will continue to point to a lone gunman. Matthew Dallek is an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow." Reviewed by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieMarie AranaMichael DirdaHarold HolzerTyler KnoxMark SloukaJonathan YardleyRobert PinskyMatthew Dallek, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Book News Annotation:
Talbot, a journalist and founder of Salon.com, uses interviews with Kennedy administration insiders, friends, and family, as well as recently released government documents, to tell the story of the relationship between John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy from 1961 to the aftermath of JFK's assassination and his brother's attempts to find answers about it. He begins with an outline of the day he was assassinated and considers the Kennedy presidency through Robert Kennedy's eyes, such as JFK's efforts to keep the US out of war, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and Robert's investigation of JFK's death, unknown until now. He also describes the aftermath of Robert's death and what happened to the investigation afterwards. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Acclaimed journalist Talbot tells in a riveting, well-researched narrative just how explosively alienated the Kennedy administration was from its own national security apparatus and that Robert Kennedy planned to open an investigation into his brother's assassination.
About the Author
David Talbot, hailed as a "pioneer of online journalism" by the New York Times, is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Salon. He has worked as a senior editor for Mother Jones magazine and as a features editor for the San Francisco Examiner. Talbot has written for the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and other publications. He lives with his family in San Francisco.
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Biography » Political
History and Social Science » US History » 1960 to 1980
History and Social Science » US History » Kennedy Family