on 23 September 2009
I have never understood the abiding mainly uncritical fascination with the Kennedys, and this book has enough evidence to convince anyone of the family's malign influence on modern politics.
The Kennedy's rise benefitted from the early TV age,and fully exploited it's power to dazzle an undiscerning and unconcerned electorate . This corrosive effect has persisted up to the recent eulogies for Ted's demise.
Their story is the story of modern political power - somehow the soap opera of their lives,filtered through an acquiescent press, plays out as an entertainment for the people,who seem unable and unwilling to recognise the abuses it conceals.
This book is a terrible unending litany of the family's corruption ,immorality,and cynicism - an indictment of the inequality and privilege which blights the land of the free.
The book is eminently readable,moving through the masses of evidence quickly and logically.
Attribution is slightly lackadaisical, but as everyone has a Kennedy story and the main protagonists are not around to complain, the reader has to judge for himself.
Strikingly,much of the evidence incriminates the witnesses,as though ,as in war,all seems fair in promoting the inexorable trajectory of the President.
All this just reinforces the strange truth of American political life -everything is seen and known,but nothing changes - the reality of western democracy.
Packed with information (a lot of bad stuff happened)this is recommended reading for anyone interested in the reality of modern power.
What are politicians for? Do we need them for inspiration - to lead us. Or perspiration, to make things work? After his assassination a young and photogenic John Kennedy (JFK)the best of America's brightest, the flawless Irish Catholic family man, has been idealised. But it took a sniper to win him such adoration.
Having watched the movie "J Edgar" which alluded to the power that the Director of the FBI had over JFK I revisited Seymour Hersh's book. It is a compelling story, the power of the Presidency compromised by the behaviour of the President. What I concluded was both JFK and Hoover chose to serve their own self interest above that of the nation. History has yet to adequately expose both of them, wisely they had loyal staff to destroy the incriminating files.
What Hersh does is to show what John Kennedy did. If you like prurient sexual scandal, did not know JFK had venereal disease, took drugs, habitually consorted with prostitutes, it is well documented. Equally he explains financial and electoral fraud, cohabitation with organised crime and the highest levels of corruption (the deal to dump the General Dynamics F111 - a rotten plane - on the Air Force).
What Hersh does not really explain is how he got away with it. Read the book and try and understand it for yourself. For me Kennedy was a man of his time, a privileged and arrogant risk taker. That was an age where men 'conquered' women and slapped them if they complained, they liked it that way and "no" meant "yes." People smoked between courses at the dinner table and every issue was either black or white. Winning was the American way, and you did not get in their way. What continues to puzzle me - even viewed from where we are now - was how the press corps were so compliant. Ask Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon (if he were alive) what they think.
Gunman /men aside, there were many people lining up armed with politically fatal facts. I doubt - and Hersh seems to prove it - Kennedy could have won the 1964 election vulnerable from so many directions. And having lost his reputation would then have been substantially tarnished. As it is the adoration of Kennedy continues, we all need heroes and it is easier to invent JFK than accept the real one. Also read more, I liked Ted Sorensen's homage or Lawrence Freedman (Kennedy's wars). Would JFK have confronted China with American military might? And what of his domestic policies? The reality of Kennedy is that his personal behaviour aside his foreign policy was flawed, confrontational and dangerous. His domestic polices showed a marked disparity between his gilded rhetoric and the lives of ordinary Americans. Read this book then look at his political legacy. From that you can balance, but not excuse, the Kennedy presidency.
on 1 December 1999
Men wanted to be like him, women wanted to be with him. And most of them were! This book charts the amazing private world of Jack Kennedy where anything was possible and he got whatever he wanted which involved the Mafia, Marilyn, Sinatra and the Brat Pack, assasination attempts on Castro, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis, alleged buying of the elections, the cover up of his first marriage and the endless womanising from all the male members of the Kennedy's. All this from a man who was trusted by millions and is still seen by many as one of the best loved US presidents.
Fifty years on from the assassination of US President John F Kennedy, there can now be few illusions about this flawed individual that have not been thoroughly shattered. Seymour Hersh's 'The Dark Side of Camelot' is one of the finest, most frank and unsentimental assessments of the Kennedy presidency. Mob links, Kennedy's almost maniacally reckless philandering, Jack and Bobby Kennedy's all-encompassing obsession with the Castro regime and how to overthrow it (including the frequently ludicrous plots on Castro's life - from exploding cigars, poisoning, and most risible of all, the proposed attempt to stage the Second Coming of Christ in Cuba), the myth of the Cuban missile crisis, and Kennedy's part in it, and the complex familial relationships, especially the demagogic figure of Joseph Kennedy, the family patriarch, bootlegger and would-be appeaser of Hitler, and the mother, Rose Kennedy. It is a modern fairy tale - hence the 'Camelot' reference - but John Kennedy comes across as far less Regal, but much more human, after reading this book. One of the finest political works of the last thirty years, of that there is no doubt.
on 11 February 2016
This SHOULD have been good to read, but it's so ponderous, and loaded with detail. You'd think that lots of research and detail would make great reading, but in this case, that isn't true. The microscopic details of everything could be called exact reporting, but it's not in the least interesting, and slows the pace of the whole thing down to almost standstill. One never feels that the story is going anywhere. Getting to the end of this book is like a marathon in itself, even though it SHOULD have been a very interesting subject.
on 15 June 1998
Hersh obviously knows something (or lots of things) about Camelot not meant for public consumption. Although the book introduces some new information, few knowledgeable readers will find substantial new ground here. The best of the book is probably Hersh's recounts of Secret Service inside philoandering of the Kennedy White House. The weakest part has got to be Hersh's revisionist ideas re. the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, and his overall assessment of JFK's foreign policy. In my opinion, although much of the book relates highly-charged material, Hersh pays too little attention to detailing his sources. If it sounds to good to be true - it may be a bit of literary license!
on 11 December 2010
Well written, dense and seemingly well researched. A good and exciting read. As to content this is an amazing divergence from what the world was given in those heady days of the 60s. While rumours did their usual rounds, the average European had little idea of how nefarious aspects of Kennedy's personal and political practices were. They felt generally that Kennedy was continuing the (relatively) clean practices of his immediate predecessors. The book also casts new light on both K's deaths; with all those skeletons in all those cupboards. Plenty of reasons for revenge. However, that's another story.
on 5 December 1997
Now let me see if I got this straight--John F. Kennedy was hated in greater or lesser degrees by the following: 1) a host of CIA "advisors" along with hundreds of Cuban exiles----for JFK's command failure to give the final go-ahead for the bomber strikes necessary to give crucial air support for a successful landing on the beach at the Bay of Pigs for CIA-backed Cuban exiles in their attempt to overthrow the Castro brothers; 2) the Castro brothers----for John and Robert Kennedy's relentless attempts to remove the Castros from power in part so the US Mafia could restore its casino gambling empire to the island; 3) the Mafia----for JFK's double-doublecross in not getting the Justice Department to back-off in pursuing the Mob after the Mob provided critical support (after Chicago Mobster Sam Giancana was approached by patriarch Joe Kennedy) to get JFK the votes he needed to win the 1960 presidential race, and for JFK's failure to get rid of Castro so the Mob could reestablish lucrative casinos which had been shut down on Cuba when Fidel Castro overthrew the Mafia-backed Battista regime; 4) Members of the Joint Chiefs of the US military----for JFK's utter failures as a commander-in-chief by his placing the US (and the world) in harm's way through the unnecessary use of nuclear brinkmanship against the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and for then caving-in to the Soviets by giving-up stategic nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey; 5) Lyndon B. Johnson----out of personal jealousy for JFK's popularity, and for Kennedy's freezing-out LBJ from any position of power in the Kennedy White House; and 6) J. Edgar Hoover----also out of personal jealousy of JFK, and in response to JFK's personal distaste and disdain for Hoover. It would appear to this reader that Mr. Hersh's marvelous investigative coup leaves unspoken the remaining weighty mass of the JFK tragedy--that being the answer to the question of Who (or Whom) would have wanted this President dead, and Who (or Whom) would have had the means to accomplish this end. Judging from the stew of highly dangerous groups and powerful individuals above, there is certainly no dearth of willing agents with the necessary means for such executive action (and it is now getting harder and harder to swallow the Warren Commission's lone gunman/magic bullet theory). It is a tragedy of history for which we are all still paying in one way or another, and one which has thus far regrettably taken an unbelievable 34 years to ferret out (so much for the investigative fortitute of the major US news organizations). Were Kennedy and his crew "The best and the brightest"?. I don't think so anymore.
on 22 December 1997
The on-line reviews of the book are telling: The ones attacking & debunking the book don't provide any substance. They attack the author, they call it sleaze, etc. But not one of them takes issue with the contents of the book, which is what a review should do. To those of you who still are seduced by the Kennedy mystique, I challenge you to find anything substantively wrong with Mr. Hersh's thesis: That JFK, because of his debauched personal life compromised his country in ways we couldn't heretofore imagine. A more apt metaphor for his administration should have been Oz rather than Camelot. And shame on all the people all these years who knew what was behind the curtain, but yet continue to propogate the lie. Unfortunately, there are enough people still out there who try to defend the indefensible, but they distort the debate by avoiding the issues and point out, among other things, problems the author had in compiling the book. Mr. Hersh took great care in researching his book, and that's why the "Marilyn Papers" didn't make it. He was honest enought and thorough enough to make sure only the truth got in. We need to judge the book by it's actual, not it's potential, contents. I wonder what Entertainment Weekly has said in the past about books regarding Richard Nixon? Do they defend him? Call those books sleaze? I doubt it. He was not an attractive man, and his sins are well-documented and easy to believe. But attack the handsome JFK... Ah, pop culture. The air-heads leading the air-heads.
on 1 December 1997
As a life-long admirer of JFK, one who is still haunted by his death,Hersh's book was another journey into the painful,disturbing and exhilirating time that was the JFK White House. Hersh's book deserves recognition for the degree of research and excellent writing that makes this book an instant classic.What I do have a problem with are some of his conclusions... that because of his sexual obsessions, he was a president out of control, that he did NOT handle the Cuban Missile Crisis well, that the Vietnam involvement was politically motivated, and that Oswald was the lone assassin. I am especially disappointed with the last point, as he really sets up the reader to understand why those in power, the "Cold Warriors," the "dees,dem and dos guys," and the pathetic anti-Castro forces could use treason and murder to reach their aims: get rid of a president,get rid of Castro and "win" the cold war. Hersh stays away from this issue, which should have been the biggest target of his book. I must come to the realization that JFK and his family were typical of the hypocrisy of the powerful. Hersh has successfully moved me to that conclusion. Anyway, his book IS a tour-de-force that should NOT be compared to the Kitty Kelley or Randy Tamborelli trash.