On the 50th anniversary of J.F.K.’s assassination, Sabato, professor of political science at the University of Virginia and frequent cable news pundit, offers a clear-eyed evaluation of the Kennedy political legacy. He knowledgeably addresses the early Kennedy career, highlighting the hard-fought Nixon-Kennedy presidential race and the much-discussed debates. Throughout, Sabato notes the differences between politics circa 1960 and now, noting that Kennedy’s Catholicism was controversial and his well-received 1960 speech promising the separation of church and state made contemporary Catholic politician Rick Santorum “want to vomit.” Sabato also attempts to clear the murky waters surrounding the Kennedy assassination and readers will be interested in his discussion of the vexing question of whether Oswald operated alone, and if not, who else was involved. Sabato is extremely critical of the Warren Commission Report, pointedly judging it a failure, and his synthesis of existing knowledge about the assassination promises to include “new revelations” presumably supportive of his skepticism. He also discusses concrete successes and failures: the Berlin crisis, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The final third of Sabato’s book traces the influence of Kennedy on his presidential successors to round out a timely, well-documented, and measured view of our 35th president. (Nov.)
More than the other books this reviewer has assessed here, Sabato's (director, Ctr. for Politics, Univ. of Virginia; A More Perfect Constitution: Ideas To Inspire a New Generation) work gratifyingly describes the ways JFK's assassination has affected both our historical memory of his life and our estimation of his legacy. Sabato includes a helpful overview of the Kennedy administration, followed by a detailed review of the many prominent assassination theories. He skewers the Warren Commission for allowing itself to be pressured into concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman; although Sabato endorses no specific assassination theory, he considers a conspiracy involving Oswald and organized crime, angry CIA officials, or anti-Castro Cubans to be plausible. He concludes with coverage of the way Kennedy's presidential successors struggled with and made use of his myth-driven record. Interestingly, he believes that of the presidents succeeding Kennedy, it was Ronald Reagan who inherited the Kennedy mystique. Reagan, like Kennedy, was a charismatic orator, possessed a sense of humor that connected with the public, and advocated conservative politics similar to Kennedy's. (See, in this context, Ira Stoll's JFK, Conservative.) Intriguingly, Sabato promises that new revelations about the assassination will be forthcoming at a press conference on October 22, 2013. This thought-provoking title will pique the interest of Kennedy fans and historians of the era.—KH
Half a century later, Lee Harvey Oswald's bullets still reverberate, as Sabato (Politics/Univ. of Virginia; Pendulum Swing, 2012, etc.) recounts in this thoughtful consideration of John Kennedy's life and afterlife. The author provides a smart précis of JFK's political career, which had plenty of odd moments: his taking on the followers of the Protestant positive-thinking guru Norman Vincent Peale, for instance, which tied in to the anti-Catholic prejudices of the day, and his subsequent decision to "reduce the impact of the religious issue by going into the lion's den" to speak before a convention of evangelical ministers. Yet Sabato's greater interest is to examine the events of November 22, 1963, and their effects. No breathless conspiracy theorist, he nonetheless offers plenty of fuel for readers who subscribe to the notion that Oswald was not alone. Why, unlike Lyndon Johnson's vehicle, did a Secret Service agent not ride on the rear bumper of JFK's car? Doing so would alone have blocked Oswald's shot. The central point of the book comes midway, when Sabato writes, "It has taken fifty years to see part of the truth clearly. John F. Kennedy's assassination might have been almost inevitable." Sabato hazards the view that, of Kennedy's many enemies, one who particularly wanted to see him dead was Jimmy Hoffa, the labor leader, who speculated about shooting the president somewhere in the segregationist Deep South. Ronald Reagan, for his part, laid out the "case for a Communist conspiracy" by observing both Oswald's connections to Cuba and the Soviet Union and the fact that in 1962, the Cold War went close to becoming dangerously hot. Whatever the case, Kennedy served at a time of considerable danger to any president, with a roiling civil rights crisis, religious prejudice, a fraught international climate and "a shockingly casual approach to presidential security." Provocative reading for this semicentennial year.
“Larry Sabato has compiled a mountain of research that is sure to be the go-to reference on the assassination for years to come. He seems to have examined any and everything connected to Kennedy's death and brought new insight and understanding to that awful weekend when America lost its innocence.” Bob Schieffer, CBS News
“Ambitious . . . Sabato is the most prominent political scientist of our age . . . [The Kennedy Half-Century is] a valuable contribution to the literature of the assassination.” James Rosen, National Review
“The Kennedy Half Century is a Master Class in discovering and evaluating John F. Kennedy as a man,a President and a game-changing figure in American life. The cultural change Kennedy brought to the nation is the real and original contribution Larry J. Sabato brings to the never-ending debates about the 35th President.” Richard Reeves, author of Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House
“In The Kennedy Half-Century, Larry Sabato not only sheds new light on the assassination, but, and more importantly, masterfully explains the enduring legacy of Kennedy and his 1000 days in office.” John Grisham