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Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 22.02.53I just finished If Kennedy Lived by Jeff Greenfield. This is an alternative history book, subtitled The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy.

I found myself so mesmerized by the book that I forgot it was a work of fiction—so I think the author succeeded in painting an realistic picture of what a completed presidency of John F. Kennedy might have been like. Greenfield makes liberal use of actual quotes from historical figures, but not necessarily in the their real setting. This adds a bit of realism to the work.

You may not want to read further if you don’t want elements of the plot revealed.

Greenfield postulates that Kennedy would have:

    • recovered from his wounds in Dallas, creating a favorability bounce much like Reagan received in 1981.
    • skillfully removed troops from Vietnam, effectively eliminating the protest movement and all the ugliness that went with it.
    • dropped LBJ from the 1964 ticket, mostly because of financial malfeasance that was to surface against Johnson.
    • moved his brother from Attorney General to Secretary of Defense.
    • survived an attempt, by the military establishment, to discredit him by revealing his affairs.
    • by the end of his term in 1968, his physical maladies would have caught up with him and he’d be wheel-chair bound in private.
    • that Jackie would, at the end of his term, basically leave him to live and work in publishing in New York City.

The end of the book acknowledges that anyone of these events might have gone a different direction, that this is just one possibility. One of the final chapters is entitled A Different Country—But How Different? Greenfield drives home the point that the country would really not have been that different in 1968—at least politically. In the 1968 election the candidates are Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon Ronald Reagan. We’re left to speculate on who would have won—my money would be on Reagan.

This is not a varnished portrayal of JFK by any stretch of the imagination. This is Kennedy warts and all. A lesser book would have had Robert Kennedy running for President in 1968 and winning. This is not that book. This book explores a plausible path that history may have taken if JFK had survived that day in Dallas. I’d give it a four and a half stars out of five.

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