In Dallas 1963, Texans Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis masterfully recreate the atmosphere of fanaticism and hatred in Dallas that preceded the assassination of J.F.K.
How did you come up with the concept for the book?
We noticed a big gaping hole in all the previous Kennedy books: while authors kept trying to explain the assassination, none of them ever bothered to explain Dallas. We are both fascinated by a sense of place—how an environment can shape people and impact their history. Each of us spent many years living or working in Dallas, and we both felt that the city itself was this living, breathing thing that had almost intentionally buried a lot of its history. We decided to try to tell what Dallas was really like during the Kennedy years—how it gained such a notorious reputation that many of J.F.K.’s friends and advisors warned him to avoid the city.
What surprised you the most during your research?
We were surprised at how little had been written about this perfect storm of outsized figures. Historians and writers had never really linked—in a narrative fashion—the billionaires, rogue generals, media magnates, Martin Luther King, and other extraordinary American figures to the brewing storm in Texas. Throw in a vitriolic, scary, underworld of neo-Nazis, KKK leaders, and gun-toting extremists, and it was like this hurricane building and gathering in the American heartland. We had hints of these things before we started, but the more research we did, the scarier the events became... one after another, they added up to this almost apocalyptic transformation in an otherwise overtly buttoned-down place.
Why isn’t the mob attack on L.B.J. and Ladybird more well-known?
That’s a question that fascinated us, too. After all, you have many of the leading citizens of a major American city leading an all-out attack on their senior U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate. It is, without question, one of the most bizarre moments in modern political history. And it was hugely consequential, as Richard Nixon recognized when he blamed his election loss on it. But the event is an outlier—until you consider it in the context of what else was happening in Dallas during the Kennedy years.
Why did you write the book in the present tense?
The narrative history in this time period was so explosive, incendiary, powerful—it was an easy decision to reach for the present tense. We wanted to do living history, recreated history—something we have specialized in in our respective books in the past. The action was so intense, so wickedly fast, and so compelling that it simply made perfect sense to use the cinematic, narrative impulses of present tense.