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The Hagiography Factory

Thomas Meaney: Arthur Schlesinger Jr, 8 February 2018

Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian 
by Richard Aldous.
Norton, 486 pp., £23.99, November 2017, 978 0 393 24470 0
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... tortoiseshell glasses, bow ties, and neatly stencilled hair, he played for the literary side of Kennedy’s best and brightest, which was meant to balance out the number-crunching prowess of Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids. In his dozens of books of American history – several of which remain indispensable – Schlesinger was among the chief assemblers ...

Brief Shining Moments

Christopher Hitchens: Donkey Business in the White House, 19 February 1998

Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 
by Taylor Branch.
Simon and Schuster, 746 pp., $30, February 1998, 0 684 80819 6
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-64 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 416 pp., September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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The Dark Side of Camelot 
by Seymour Hersh.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £8.99, February 1998, 9780006530770
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Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson , Bobby Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade 
by Jeff Shesol.
Norton, 591 pp., £23.50, January 1998, 9780393040784
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The Year the Dream Died 
by Jules Witcover.
Warner, 512 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 446 51849 2
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Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot 
by Jerry Zeifman.
Thunder's Mouth, 262 pp., $24.95, November 1996, 9781560251286
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The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Howard, 740 pp., £23.50, September 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection 
edited by David Barrett.
Texas A & M, 906 pp., $94, June 1997, 0 89096 741 5
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Taking Charge: The Johnson Whitehouse Tapes 1963-64 
edited by Michael Beschloss.
Simon and Schuster, 624 pp., £20, April 1998, 0 684 80407 7
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Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes 
edited by Stanley Kutler.
Free Press, 675 pp., $30, November 1997, 0 684 84127 4
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The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Jupiters, 1957-63 
by Philip Nash.
North Carolina, 231 pp., £34.70, October 1997, 0 8078 4647 3
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... In Arthur Schlesinger’s court history, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which might without unfairness be called the founding breviary of the cult of JFK, there appears the following vignette. Schlesinger had been asked to carpenter a ‘White Paper’ justifying Washington’s destabilisation of Cuba, in which the high-flown rhetoric of the New Frontier might form a sort of scab over the fouler business of empire ...

Who Will Lose?

David Edgar, 25 September 2008

Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future 
by Newton Minow and Craig LaMay.
Chicago, 219 pp., £11.50, April 2008, 978 0 226 53041 3
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... of the Commission on Presidential Debates, can claim particular authority. (‘President John F. Kennedy told me more than once’ is the book’s opening phrase.) His and LaMay’s study is overwhelmingly concerned with the complex and often tortured history of the debates as an institution. There is some information – but not a lot – about the ...

After-Time

Christopher Hitchens, 19 October 1995

Palimpsest: A Memoir 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 432 pp., £17.99, October 1995, 0 233 98891 2
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... between himself and Mailer, himself and Capote, himself and Tennessee Williams, or himself and William Buckley. Rather, we learn, not without preceding markers but in many ways for the first time, about Vidal’s family and about the Kennedy branch of it. We come to understand how divided a self he is; not just as ...

On the imagining of conspiracy

Christopher Hitchens, 7 November 1991

Harlot’s Ghost 
by Norman Mailer.
Joseph, 1122 pp., £15.99, October 1991, 0 7181 2934 2
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A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs 
by Theodore Draper.
Hill and Wang, 690 pp., $27.95, June 1991, 0 8090 9613 7
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... Politics here a bit trite, you say? Perhaps. But the following things really happened. President Kennedy was shot down in the light of broad day. His assassin was murdered on camera while in maximum security. Richard Nixon’s intimates fed high-denomination dollar bills into a shredder in order to disguise their provenance in the empire of – Howard ...

How to be a wife

Colm Tóibín: The Discretion of Jackie Kennedy, 6 June 2002

Janet & Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 
by Jan Pottker.
St Martin’s, 381 pp., $24.95, October 2001, 0 312 26607 3
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Mrs KennedyThe Missing History of the Kennedy Years 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 389 pp., £20, October 2001, 0 297 64333 9
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... ambition and greed and betrayal and tribulation that surrounded her, the question about Jacqueline Kennedy is not who she would have been in Greek drama, but who she would have been in Henry James. She was, to begin with, Maisie in What Maisie Knew. Clearly, she loathed and feared and needed the approval of her snobbish, dull, shrieking and ambitious mother ...

Mailer’s Muddy Friend

Stephen Ambrose, 1 September 1988

Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... the top Mafia people, Richard Nixon, Si Newhouse, Rupert Murdoch, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, William F. Buckley, an endless list of Congressmen and judges and society swells, of the rich and famous. Cohn knew, dealt with, worked for, went to parties with and generally hobnobbed with more celebrities than any other American. He did favours for them ...

AmeriKKKa

Thomas Sugrue: Civil Rights v. Black Power, 5 October 2006

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice 
by Raymond Arsenault.
Oxford, 690 pp., £19.99, March 2006, 0 19 513674 8
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... vigilantes pummelled them, beat several reporters, and left John Seigenthaler, a high-ranking Kennedy administration official sent to monitor the protests, unconscious. The Alabama State Police stood inert just blocks from the depot while the mob rampaged. The whites who defended Jim Crow in Alabama were not social outsiders. Their actions had the ...

Hot Dogs

Malcolm Bull, 14 June 1990

Mine eyes have seen the glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America 
by Randall Balmer.
Oxford, 246 pp., $19.95, September 1989, 0 19 505117 3
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In God’s Country: Travels in the Bible Belt, USA 
by Douglas Kennedy.
Unwin Hyman, 240 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 0 04 440423 9
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The Divine Supermarket 
by Malise Ruthven.
Chatto, 336 pp., £14.95, August 1989, 0 7011 3151 9
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The Democratisation of American Christianity 
by Nathan Hatch.
Yale, 312 pp., £22.50, November 1989, 0 300 44470 2
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Religion and 20th-Century American Intellectual Life 
edited by Michael Lacey.
Cambridge/Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, 214 pp., £27.50, November 1989, 0 521 37560 6
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New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America 
by Mary Farrell Bednarowski.
Indiana, 175 pp., $25, November 1989, 0 253 31137 3
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... of serious social importance? Both Randall Balmer, a professor of history at Columbia, and Douglas Kennedy, an American writer resident in London, confronted this question on numerous occasions in their travels through the evangelical sub-culture of America. Their narratives abound with the exploits of Christian stunt women, Christian tee-shirt ...

Wild Words

Stuart Hampshire, 18 August 1983

A History of the Modern World: From 1917 to the 1980s 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 832 pp., £16.50, April 1983, 0 297 78226 6
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... he had few equals and he had an enviable knack of turning problems into solutions.’ About William Temple he writes: ‘a jovial, Oliver Hardy figure, with an appetite not merely for carbohydrates, but for social martyrdom’. About the Bloomsbury group: ‘the influence of Bloomsbury had reached upwards and downwards by the 1930s to embrace almost the ...

Oo, Oo!

Neal Ascherson: Khrushchev the Stalinist, 21 August 2003

Khrushchev: The Man and His Era 
by William Taubman.
Free Press, 876 pp., £25, April 2003, 0 7432 3165 1
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... wiped his nose on his sleeve, but he was not going to be treated like this by God or man. Reading William Taubman’s tremendous biography, I see that this sort of thing kept happening to Khrushchev. Take the grand picnic for the Writers’ Union in May 1957, one of his many catastrophic meetings with the Moscow intellectuals, at which, after a ...

Oswaldworld

Andrew O’Hagan, 14 December 1995

Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery 
by Norman Mailer.
Little, Brown, 791 pp., £25, September 1995, 0 316 87620 8
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... now than when I began.’ In the summer of 1960, the year after he wrote that, he visited John F. Kennedy at home in Hyannisport. He was there on behalf of Esquire magazine, to interview the young Catholic who sought the Democratic nomination, and Kennedy took him very seriously. In fact, he had mugged up before meeting the ...

The Monster Plot

Thomas Powers: James Angleton, Spymaster, 10 May 2018

The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton 
by Jefferson Morley.
Scribe, 336 pp., £20, December 2017, 978 1 911344 73 5
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... something Morley has been investigating for more than twenty years, JFK’s assassination. The Kennedy assassination is a notoriously tricky subject for researchers and The Ghost helps us to see why. Attempts to say who really killed Kennedy go quickly at first but then the vast universe of available information takes ...

Real Thing

John Naughton, 24 November 1988

Live from Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television 
by Michael Cockerell.
Faber, 352 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 571 14757 7
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... ago, during an American Presidential election, rumours began to circulate that Senator Edward Kennedy was again thinking of running for the Democratic nomination. A young reporter had the idea of asking ex-President Nixon for his views on this development. ‘If Teddy Kennedy is serious,’ Nixon is alleged to have ...

Subject, Spectator, Phantom

J. Hoberman: The Strangest Personality Ever to Lead the Free World, 17 February 2005

Nixon at the Movies: A Book about Belief 
by Mark Feeney.
Chicago, 422 pp., £19.50, November 2004, 0 226 23968 3
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... inspired by Frank Capra’s 1948 State of the Union and, as the son of a sometime Hollywood mogul, Kennedy was groomed for glamorous stardom. But no American president before Nixon had ever made a public pronouncement based on his experience of a movie, and, Ronald Reagan’s professional interest in the medium notwithstanding, no president since Nixon has ...

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