cover image ASK NOT: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America

ASK NOT: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America

Thurston Clarke, . . Holt, $25 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-7213-6

Ever since the success of Garry Wills's Lincoln at Gettysburg, various authors have tried, with varying degrees of success, to create similar books focusing on the personalities, events and politics surrounding great rhetorical moments. One of the more valuable such efforts is this new study of JFK's inauguration and his memorable "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech. Clarke (Pearl Harbor Ghosts ; Lost Hero ) offers an excellent reconstruction of the details of that frigid, snow-encrusted day in January 1961—and the many busy days before, when Kennedy and such advisers as Ted Sorenson and John Kenneth Galbraith joined words that still resonate in our national memory. Contesting accepted wisdom that gives Sorenson the bulk of the credit for the address, Clarke—through assiduous sleuthing—documents Kennedy's primary authorship of the speech considered by many to be his greatest public utterance. One quibble: for all the value of tracking numerous drafts of the inaugural remarks back to JFK's original dictation, handwritten draft and on-the-spot changes from the podium, following all these minuscule revisions sometimes makes for a blizzard of detail only the most devoted Kennedy fan will want to negotiate. Nevertheless, Clarke clearly breaks new ground, creating a valuable book worth making room for on the crowded Kennedy shelf. Agent, Kathy Robbins. (Oct. 8)