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Anyone who knows me from the “old days”—IUP days—knows that I could always be called upon to espouse the latest theory on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In those days, books like Six Seconds in Dallas or They’ve Killed the President lined my book shelves. I’ve since come to the following conclusions about the assassination:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald probably acted alone.
  • There are no secrets in our society. If, in 50 years, no other gunman has been identified, then it’s probably because none exist.
  • Even so, the Warren Commission was flawed in the research, technique and conclusions.

So, it was with some hesitancy that I picked up End of Days. I first previewed it in iBooks and ran across these words that sealed the deal for me:

This book attempts to re-create a moment when time stopped. It seeks to recapture how Americans lived through this tragedy and to resurrect the mood and emotions of those unforgettable days between President John F. Kennedy’s murder and his funeral… our misguided modern–day obsessions with exotic, multiple, and contradictory conspiracy theories involving tales of grassy knolls, umbrella men, magic bullets, second gunmen, Oswald impostors, doctored films, fraudulent photographs, and all–powerful government cover–ups has caused us to lose the emotional connection to the events of November 1963. We have strayed too far from the human truths of that day. A wife lost her husband. Two children lost their father. A nation lost a president… the death of one man caused a nation to weep. Half a century later, Americans refuse to forget him. We mourn him still.

We mourn him still.

Years ago, I read a book by Jim Bishop, The Day Lincoln Died, which avoided speculation about conspiracies, etc. and just told the story of that day; the human side of that drama. This book does the same.

If you're interested in Alternative History.

If you’re interested in Alternative History.

I remember feeling a strange sadness while reading (pp. 60–63) about the Kennedy’s plans after the Texas trip…JohnJohn’s birthday party, a dinner party on Monday the 25th, Thanksgiving. Swanson successfully captures the anticipation we all felt (and still feel) about what would have happened if he had lived?

The author makes an assertion that is certainly interesting, especially if true. The author quotes Marina, on the night before the assassination: “‘He (Oswald) suggested that we rent an apartment. He was tired of living alone.'” Marina, even after bargaining with Oswald to get a washing machine, said “no”—the author thinks that if she had said “yes” that Oswald would have changed his mind about killing Kennedy, saying, “If Oswald was not reconsidering killing Kennedy, he would have had no reason to find a better apartment or purchase a washing machine.” Interesting proposition—so, is it Marina’s fault?

The narrative on the shooting is riveting and suspenseful—quite an accomplishment, given that everyone knows the outcome. I found myself hoping for a missed third shot, even though I knew it’s history.

The fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was a loser is evident throughout the book—I think this is the genesis of our obsession with assassination theories. We have trouble believing that a loser, like Oswald, could, all by himself, take the life of our “King” of “Camelot.” That “such an inconsequential man as Oswald could change history in such a monumental way.” The author does not delve into the assassination theories, other than to debunk them, writing, “They reject the proven role that chance, luck, randomness, coincidence, or mistake have played in human history for thousands of years. To them, there are no accidents in life. Everything that happens can be explained by conspiracy.”

…we have trouble believing that a loser, like Oswald, could, all by himself, take the life of our “King” of “Camelot.”

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

Why did Oswald kill Kennedy? The author speculates that “…in the end, perhaps the reason is much simpler and more fundamental and lies beyond rational human understanding: Lee Harvey Oswald was evil…(and) he taunts us still, defying us to solve the mystery of the why that he left behind.”

The Dallas police, in a classic case of trying to please everyone and therefore pleasing none, bungled the handling of Oswald. Dallas law enforcement, afraid that the country was assigning “collective guilt” to Dallas for the assassination, treated the press with unheard of courtesy and access. Jack Ruby, a two-bit nightclub owner and Kennedy admirer, used the police’s goodwill and media-sensitiveness to his advantage, killing Oswald as he was being transferred from one jail to another. When announced to the waiting crowd that Oswald had been shot and was on his way to Parkland hospital, there were “howls of delight outside the county jail…it was hard to not take pleasure in the knowledge that John Kennedy’s murderer has suffered a kind of Old Testament or western vigilante justice for his great crime.” Nevertheless, “most of the American people wanted Oswald to survive this day…(they) wanted answers. Who was he? How did he do it? Why did he do it? If Lee Harvey Oswald died, he would take his secrets to the grave.”

Amazing, the Dallas police, while possessing seasoned investigators and interrogators, did not tape any of the interviews with Oswald. What were they thinking? This man just killed the president and they didn’t record their interviews with him?

‘The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, is as compelling as any drama written by William Shakespeare. It is the great American tragedy.’

A year after the assassination, Jackie summed up the feelings of so many Americans when she said, “…so now, he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.”

James Swanson wanted this book to “re-create a moment when time stopped. It seeks to recapture how Americans lived through this tragedy…” I think Mr. Swanson has done this with aplomb. This is our modern day Death of a President told with the clarity that 50 years brings. But in the end, Kennedy is still “a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.”

But in the end, Kennedy is still “a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.”