cover image The Death of a President: November 20-November 25, 1963

The Death of a President: November 20-November 25, 1963

William Manchester. Little, Brown/Back Bay, $22 trade paper (718p) ISBN 9780316370714

The fall of a near-mythic leader is elegized in this sprawling, magisterial account of the killing of President John F. Kennedy, reissued for the assassination's 50th anniversary. Historian Manchester (The Last Lion) follows the Warren Commission in fingering Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman, but demotes him from anti-hero to contemptible bit player in the drama. The author instead recounts the demise and transfiguration of Camelot by spotlighting its central figures: Kennedy, a dazzling character martyred in an instant; Lyndon Johnson, vaulting from frustrated impotence to untrammeled power, guilefully maneuvering to consolidate his rule from the moment of Kennedy's death; Jackie Kennedy, self-possessed though stained with her husband's blood, leveraging her moral authority and instinct for pageantry to transform Kennedy glamor into tragic pathos. Manchester's fantastically detailed but engrossing narrative is Shakespearian in its sweep, taking in court intrigues played out through photo-ops and turf-battles over Air Force One, comic turns by publicity hounds, and eruptions of grief%E2%80%94and celebration!%E2%80%94from the great and the humble. Published in 1967, Manchester's portrait of J.F.K. is innocent of the tawdrier revelations of later Kennedy scholarship and can seem naive in its adulation, but he delivers a superb, riveting evocation of the assassination's impact on the national psyche. (Oct.)