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Dinner in Camelot: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House

Dinner in Camelot: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House


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In April 1962, President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted forty-nine Nobel Prize winners—along with many other prominent scientists, artists, and writers—at a famed White House dinner. Among the guests were J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was officially welcomed back to Washington after a stint in the political wilderness; Linus Pauling, who had picketed the White House that very afternoon; William and Rose Styron, who began a fifty-year friendship with the Kennedy family that night; James Baldwin, who would later discuss civil rights with Attorney General Robert Kennedy; Mary Welsh Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s widow, who sat next to the president and grilled him on Cuba policy; John Glenn, who had recently orbited the earth aboard Friendship 7; historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who argued with Ava Pauling at dinner; and many others. Actor Frederic March gave a public recitation after the meal, including some unpublished work of Hemingway’s that later became part of Islands in the Stream. Held at the height of the Cold War, the dinner symbolizes a time when intellectuals were esteemed, divergent viewpoints could be respectfully discussed at the highest level, and the great minds of an age might all dine together in the rarefied glamour of “the people’s house.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781512600124
Publisher: University Press of New England
Publication date: 04/03/2018
Pages: 252
Sales rank: 564,372
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Joseph A. Esposito has had a long career in the fields of public service, education, communications, and nonprofit work. He served in three presidential administrations, most recently as deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the US Department of Education. He blogs about history at

An award-winning audio engineer for over forty years, Tom Perkins has expanded his skills to narrating and has more than sixty titles to his credit. He learned by working with the world's best voice talent during his career, and he continues to engineer a variety of projects.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Camelot • Preface • Key Attendees to Dinner at the White House, April 29, 1962 • Prologue: Heading to Dinner • America in Transition • Camelot at Midpoint • Poetry, Prose, and Politics • America’s Queen and America’s Hero • Redemption and Promise • Is That Linus Pauling? • “The Fire Next Time” • A Galaxy of Geniuses • An After-Party • Lives Connected • Epilogue: Nothing Like It Since • Acknowledgments • Notes • Index

What People are Saying About This

Jay Parini

“This is a remarkable study of a moment in time that may have passed unnoticed by most Americans: a gathering of great minds at the White House in 1962. It took a man of John Kennedy’s aplomb, self-confidence, and intellectual grace to play host to such a gathering. Joseph A. Esposito explores the meaning of this event, placing before us the sublime possibilities that the United States does indeed represent. In doing so, he reminds us how far we have to go simply to return to what we once, almost, possessed.”

Douglas Brinkley

“Dinner in Camelot is a wonderful recounting of the greatest party of the 1960s. A real page-turner. Highly recommended!”

Chris Whipple

“Read it and weep: A fascinating reconstruction of a once-in-a-century event in presidential history, and how it still resonates today. Joseph Esposito vividly evokes a time when science, intellect and civility trumped disruption, ignorance and rage.”

Eugene L. Meyer

“A stunning snapshot of a shining moment in time in mid-century America. Joe Esposito uses this unique dinner to spotlight the era’s’ best and brightest remarkably assembled in one place by a president and first lady who, all too briefly, thrilled and inspired a hopeful nation.”

David O. Stewart

“Re-creating a magical White House evening in 1962 when President and Mrs. Kennedy outshone dozens of Nobel laureates, Dinner in Camelot uses that event as a hinge of American culture in the twentieth century, tracing the paths that led to the dinner and those that sprawled away from it.”

Larry Tye

“Everyone who mattered was there at the White House that night in April 1962. Now, thanks to Joseph Esposito’sDinner in Camelot,we can be there too,feeling the glamour and sharing the hope. It’s difficult to imagine a more thrilling trip back at a moment when we all need not just a distraction but a reason to hope again.”

Evan Thomas

“Joseph Esposito takes us back to a golden moment in time and makes it a fascinating metaphor for an age sadly lost. With deft strokes, he vividly portrays the glamour and grandeur, the vaulting ambition and brilliance (and, yes the pettiness and snobbery) of an evening when America reached its apogee of power and greatness.”

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