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Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy Hardcover – 11 Oct 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; Har/Com edition (11 Oct. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401324568
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401324568
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 349,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


This is the memoir that President Kennedy never got to write - Thomas Putnam --The New York Times

Just as the unique vision of President John F. Kennedy continues to resonate half a century after his stirring speeches and bold policy decisions, the documentary candor of Listening In; imparts a vivid, breathtaking immediacy that will significantly expand our understanding of his time in office. --Good Reads

Listening In will give readers unparalleled access to the decision-making process and thoughts of John F. Kennedy. These recordings offer readers a chance to step into the Oval Office and Cabinet Room as if they themselves were present. --Eldeweiss Above the Treeline

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sam T. on 3 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover
The chance to listen to John F. Kennedy making history was irresistible. There are two disks with selected recordings of phone conversations and meetings between Kennedy and his colleagues. They even include the catchy jingles Kennedy used for his Congressional elections and Presidential campaign. The audio quality is clear and the disks are accompanied by an wonderfully illustrated book filled with transcripts of the recordings on the disks and many more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robin Leeper on 28 Sept. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition with Audio/Video Verified Purchase
Absorbing opportunity to get an idea of who he was, loved the audio clips, and just wanted more of them.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 77 reviews
81 of 85 people found the following review helpful
Almost in the Room 26 Sept. 2012
By The Ginger Man - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
According to Caroline Kennedy, JFK "installed secret Oval Office recording devices after the Bay of Pigs disaster so that he could have an accurate account of who said what, in case of any later disputes as to the exact nature of conversations." The full 265 hours of taped conversations have now been made available by the Kennedy Library. Listening In presents transcripts from more than 60 of these conversations and two CDs which carry the audio from 36 of them.

The true value of this package is the CD which allows the listener to eavesdrop on "a president being president" as described by editor Ted Widmer. He claims that this is the closest to a JFK autobiography as we can ever get. While the audio quality on some of the entries is weak, on others the voice of the President is hauntingly clear and evocative. And the range of the selections is as wide as can be imagined. We hear the President finish a conversation with his daughter to be briefed by the CIA on their discovery of offensive missiles in Cuba. He argues with Mississippi Governor Barnett about how to restore order during the integration of the University ("How can I remove him, Governor, when there's a riot in the street and he may step out of the building and something happen to him?") JFK gives his regards to Yugoslavia Marshal Tito and chews out his assistant defense secretary for publicity about a costly furniture purchase ("You just sank the air force budget! You're crazy up there! Are they crazy? That silly bastard with his picture next to the bed?") In one call, he briefs former President Herbert Hoover about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Hoover emerges from a different world in which he was chief executive in 1928 and opens by observing, "It seems to me these recent events are rather incredible." The tapes capture the Joint Chiefs complaining about those same Missile Crisis plans after the President has left the room. ("You're screwed, screwed, screwed. And, if some goddamn thing, some way, he could say, that they either do the son of a bitch and do it right, and quit friggin around.")

There is much to learn in these tapes. In one transcript, JFK repeatedly tells his science advisor and the heads of NASA that "the whole thrust of the Agency, in my opinion, is the lunar program." He goes as far as to advise that the moon landing must remain the top priority, "otherwise we shouldn't be spending this kind of money, because I'm not that interested in space." Just 10 months later, however, another conversation shows that the President has fully galvanized NASA to pursue his goal. At that point, he can afford to be more reflective and to discuss if the manned moon landing is a good idea. This demonstrates JFKs transition from visionary leader to hard driving chief executive and, finally, self-critical manager.

In another tape, Kennedy dictates his reactions to the Saigon coup that deposed President Diem and his brother. He begins by criticizing himself for approving an initial communication that may have green-lighted the US role in the coup. JFK Jr enters to play with his father and at one point says, "Naughty, naughty Daddy." As his son exits, the President resumes his dictation by stating, "I was shocked by the death of Diem and Nhu." This kind of counterpoint seems far-fetched for a novel, let alone real life.

My only criticism is that many of the transcribed conversations are not included in the CDs, such as the NASA discussion cited above. I would have liked to receive all of them in audio form. The true value of this package is the tone and pace of the recorded audio conversations.

Caroline Kennedy refers to these transcriptions as a "legacy of strength in the face of conflict." Listening to the President talk calmly during the Missile Crisis that could have resulted in the death of a large percentage of the human race while hearing his fear that "by the end of next month, we're going to be toe-to-toe on Berlin, anyway" certainly supports her assessment. In any case, I found the recordings mesmerizing and instructive.

Listen to the CDs first. Hearing the actual conversation informs the written transcription in a way that makes other history seem colorless and barren. The President comes alive once again in these tapes. It is a fascinating and sometimes disconcerting listening experience.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
An interesting look behind closed doors 3 Oct. 2012
By S. O. Baldrick - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book isn't for everyone. Those with little knowledge of history or the politics of the early 1960s will find this sparse reading. Perhaps some are expecting conversations about hookers or JFK talking about nailing Marilyn Monroe. No, the book doesn't offer anything like that. However, if you know a little about the era, there is much here to keep your attention.

This is a book of interesting nuggets. If you want complete histories, you will need to look elsewhere. But the nuggets can be very revealing. It's interesting to listen to his advisers suggest invading Cuba during the Missile Crisis... it's incredible to listen to JFK calmly try to examine what the Soviet Union was hoping to accomplish. Although JFK tends to be immortalized far too much, these tapes do reveal a cool thinker who doesn't let his emotions make his decisions for him.

There's funny stuff in there too... like when JFK practically loses his cool when he hears the Navy spent five thousand dollars dressing up a maternity ward for the First Lady... or how he thought the movie "PT-109" was too long.

With a book like this, you get out of it what you want. Personally, I found it interesting to "eavesdrop" on conversations that were, in many cases, top secret.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
The bad reviews are for Kindle & Apple, not the book or content 18 Oct. 2012
By Auriandra - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition with Audio/Video
It really bothers me when people use Amazon comments to complain about things like price or, in this case, the quality of the audio on their Kindle or Apple devices. Those reviews belong with those products, not with the book. These ratings throw off the Amazon user, who looks to the review stars to represent the content.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Nixon Claimed Kennedy and LBJ Also Had The Oval Office Bugged 11 Oct. 2012
By James R. Holland - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is really a collection of interesting text-captions made from secret recordings and illustrated with White House photographs taken during Kennedy's Administration. Personally, this reviewer found the photos to be an important part of the book. The guts of book are of course the text and recorded hisory, but the pictures make it a more interesting and understandable read.

"...Kennedy was determined to have a reliable record of the words that were spoken in the White House. And so n July 1962, Secret Service agent installed a sophisticated taping system in the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room of the White House. The reasons for this installation were never explained, by Kennedy or anyone else, in fact, the very existence of the taping system was a closely held secret..."

"A vast amount of information was gathered by those recording devices--248 hours of meetings in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, and 17 and a half hours of telephone conversations and dictated private reflections."

In the book's foreword, Caroline Kennedy, who was present during some of the secret recording sessions, states that: "I was always told that my father installed secret Oval Office recording devices after the Bay of Pigs disaster so that he could have an accurate account of who said what, in case of any later disputes as to the exact nature of the conversations." And while Caroline can now appreciate the importance of those tapes of actual history being made, at the time she and her brother were much too young to have understood much of what was being discussed.

The various transcripts of the conversations are made more understandable by the fact they are illustrated with pictures of JFK with the people he was meeting with. The captions don't all read like they are from secret tape recordings in the Oval Office. Some of the text seems more like a speech than an off the cuff meeting with the President. That is particularly true with the "Meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on September 19, 1963" What is reproduced in this book sounds exactly like somebody giving a carefully prepared speech. That said, it's still interesting.

The book includes two CD's that enable the reader to also hear some of the actual White House Tapes.

It's nice to occasionally hear the dialogue of young John when he and his sister wander into a meeting to say "hello."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Enormity Of The Office 26 Jan. 2013
By Michael Marstellar - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Whether, you are a Democrat or Republican or any of the other Third Parties, by listening to the CDs in the book you can appreciate the enormity of the Office of President, and the many stressful challenges that the Office entails. Each President has a Party agenda, but if we take President Kennedy as an example, we can see his greater concern is for the greater whole i.e. the United States and its people. These recordings are not only great first-hand accounts of American history, but quite simply show how the President deals with matters non-stop, and these are matters that cover the entire political spectrum, and all in the course of one day e.g. domestic policy, foreign policy, finance, education, defense, even social interaction. I especially enjoyed the recording of the President ripping apart an Air Force guy for taking a picture in front of $5000+ furniture, denoting a waste in spending showed how even Presidents get pissed-off at incompent stupid employees -it was great candor.
After listening to these recordings, I now have a whole new appreciation for the Office, and the men who serve in it.

SIDENOTE: I too agree that I wish people WOULD NOT use this review forum to rate the quality of the product rather than the content because it skews vieweres idea of the content upon viewing the ratings.
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