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

by Thurston Clarke, Edward Herrmann, Edward Hermann
     
 

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A close-up on one of American history’s most splendid events, JFK’s inaugural week, and the creation of the speech that inspired a generation and brought hope to a nation

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." On the January morning when John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency and stood to speak those

Overview

A close-up on one of American history’s most splendid events, JFK’s inaugural week, and the creation of the speech that inspired a generation and brought hope to a nation

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." On the January morning when John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency and stood to speak those words, America was divided. Citizens around the world were torn by fears of war. Kennedy’s speech—called the finest since Lincoln at Gettysburg, the most memorable of any 20th-century American politician—did more than reassure: It changed lives, marking the start of a brief, optimistic era of struggle against “tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

Ask Not is a beautifully detailed account of the week leading up to the inaugural which stands as one of the most moving spectacles in the history of American politics. At the heart of the narrative is Kennedy’s quest to create a speech that would distill American dreams and empower a new generation. Clarke’s portrait of JFK during what intimates called his happiest days is balanced, revealing the president at his most dazzlingly charismatic (and cunningly pragmatic). As the snow gradually covers Washington in a blanket of white, as statesmen and celebrities arrive for candle-lit festivities, Kennedy—an obsessed perfectionist—pushes himself, his family, and advisors to the limit—to create greatness, to find the words which captured what he most truly believed and, as it happened, which far outlasted his own life. For all who seek to understand the fascination with all things Kennedy, the answer is here. Ask Not explains the phenomenon to the heart and mind.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Thurston Clarke's meticulous research uncovers many fascinating nuggets, including the debunking of the popular myth tha Ted Sorenson was the primary author of the speech. Read with just the right senes of nobility by Edward Herrmann, this audiobook offers something the print version can't—a recording of the actual JFK speech interspersed with play-by-play commentary" AudioFile
"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." For aging baby boomers, even the first two words of the quotation bring the occasion to mind; the windy, chilly January 1961 afternoon when John F. Kennedy delivered his historic inaugural address. Its words are chiseled into granite tablets at Arlington National Cemetery, below the president's grave. Author Thurston Clarke believes that it is time that we retrieve this famous speech from legend to reexamine it in the warm light of history. Drawing on shorthand notes that Kennedy dictated and successive drafts of the speech, he shows how the president-elect shaped the oration in ways previously unknown. For any JFK fan, Ask Not is an absorbing revisionist history.
Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
With its famous call to service, Kennedy's January 20, 1961, inaugural address more likely moved the nation, concludes the author, than affected the change claimed by the book's title. Clarke (California Fault: Searching for the Spirit of the State Along the San Andreas) presents a spirited narrative of how Kennedy wrote the speech during the ten days before the inauguration. After detailed comparison of the address's multiple drafts, he maintains that the speech was largely Kennedy's, although he had some help from speechwriter Theodore Sorenson and others. Kennedy agonized over every word and revised right up to inauguration day: his goal was to make the speech as memorable as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and to gain the trust of the many voters (49.6 percent) who had supported Richard Nixon. Entertaining stories capture the festive Washington atmosphere, and the author skillfully conveys the country's optimistic mood. This fine social history is a superior complement to W.J. Rorabaugh's Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties and is strongly recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04.] Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781593975517
Publisher:
Macmillan Audio
Publication date:
10/08/2004
Edition description:
Abridged
Product dimensions:
5.24(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt


From Ask Not:
We saw, in black and white, a cloudless sky, sharp light, and air so cold it turned Kennedy's breath into white clouds. When he said, "Let the word go forth from this time and place . . . " it appeared that each word he spoke really was going forth into the exhilarating air that everyone in the nation was breathing that day.
We saw a Currier and Ives tableau, wintry and patriotic. Wind ruffled the festive bunting and the marble façade of the Capitol gleamed. Sunlight bounced off snowbanks and spectators shielded their eyes. Rows of dignitaries filled the platform. The men wore dark overcoats and top hats, outfits for tycoons and statesmen. No one imagined that Rose Kennedy was fuming over her row-end seat, or that Eleanor Roosevelt had refused her place of honor because she could not bear being close to Kennedy's father, or that there was so much bad blood between the dignitaries on this platform that if grudges had weight, the entire contraption would have crashed to the ground.
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon sat in a semicircle of armchairs. The four men's wives-all former and future First Ladies-sat behind them in the first row on either side of the podium. A faint smile remained frozen on Jackie Kennedy's face, as if she was party to some delicious secret.

Meet the Author

THURSTON CLARKE has written nine books of fiction and non-fiction, including Pearl Harbor Ghosts and California Fault, a New York Times notable book. His articles have been published in Vanity Fair, Glamour, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and received the Lowell Thomas Award for travel literature.

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