Watching the Detectives
An Armchair Guide to the Crime of the Century
Copyright © 2000-2010 by David Reitzes
In 1979 there were an estimated 600 books written on the subject of John F. Kennedy's assassination; the number has probably doubled since then. This is a somewhat selective listing of the most important and useful texts, plus a number of commonly available duds. Priority has been given to books currently in print, and are listed alphabetically by author except for the two US government reports. JFK/Lancer and The Last Hurrah Bookshop are recommended mail-order sources for harder-to-find titles.
I have also recently found Amazon.com to be an excellent source for used copies of out-of-print titles, and have even scored a few unexpected bargains there. For this reason, I have decided to add more out-of-print books to my listing, with links (when applicable) to Amazon.com. (If some links are no longer current, try a keyword search at the Amazon.com site.) Because of the fleeting nature of used book sales, of course, there may or may not be copies for sale there at any given time. If not, try the sources named above.
The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, Report, aka The Warren Report (1964). The world-famous lone assassin theory is available online in its entirety.
The House Select Committee to Study the Assassination of President Kennedy, Final Report and Hearings (1979). While supporting the Warren Report in many key respects, the HSCA Final Report concludes that Kennedy was "probably" killed by a conspiracy, and not for the best of reasons. The HSCA's Report is also available online.
Jim Bishop, The Day Kennedy Was Shot (Funk & Wagnall, 1968; Bantam, 1969). A hackneyed, unsourced account of the assassination based largely on the Warren Commission's work.
Walt Brown, The People V. Lee Harvey Oswald (Carroll & Graf, 1992). Would Oswald have been convicted of the assassination? Warren Commission scholar Brown says no. Although Brown can be overly dismissive of the case against Oswald, the book is well researched and a surprisingly witty and enjoyable read.
Walt Brown, The Warren Omission (Delmar, 1996). A micro-study of the Warren Commission procedures, focusing on the important issues the Commission didn't investigate. A worthwhile and interesting read for newcomers and long-time researchers alike. See Walt Brown's JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly Website for ordering information.
Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007). The prosecutor who put Charles Manson away takes on the many JFK conspiracy theories. The book is too long and too sarcastic, but it contains a wealth of information and its arguments are impressive. A "must have."
Edward Jay Epstein, Inquest (Viking Press, 1966). A seminal, though seriously flawed book about the inner workings of the Warren Commission, and a wake-up call to anyone who just assumed the Commission's investigation was above reproach. This and the following two titles were reprinted, with a number of new introductions and afterwords, as The Assassination Chronicles.
Edward Jay Epstein, Counterplot (Viking Press, 1969). A scathing exposé of Jim Garrison's investigation, which later became the basis for Oliver Stone's JFK.
Edward Jay Epstein, Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald (Reader's Digest Press, 1978). Epstein's Oswald biography is short on insight, but it fills a gap in our knowledge of Oswald, particularly his days in the Marines.
James H. Fetzer, ed., Assassination Science (Catfeet Press, 1998). A highly controversial collection of conspiracy-oriented critiques of the forensic evidence in the assassination. Fetzer's contention is that much of the forensic evidence -- including the famous Zapruder film -- has been falsified. Many conspiracy theorists now believe that a study commissioned by the Assassination Records Review Board proves the Zapruder film to be authentic; doubts remain about the autopsy photographs and X-rays of President Kennedy, though the House committee concluded they were genuine.
James H. Fetzer, ed., Murder in Dealey Plaza: What We Know Now that We Didn't Know Then (Open Court, 2000). A follow-up to Assassination Science, featuring more material from Jack White, David Mantik, Gary Aguilar, etc.
Gaeton Fonzi, The Last Investigation (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993). An HSCA investigator explains why he believes the House committee failed to solve the assassination. The book is worthwhile reading in some respects, but Fonzi is too hung up on placing the blame on the CIA to see the big picture.
Stewart Galanor, Cover-Up (Kestrel, 1998). A clear, concise summary of the case for conspiracy.
Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins (Sheridan Square Press, 1988). The basis for much of Oliver Stone's JFK. Whoever said hindsight is 20/20 never read this assemblage of deliberate fabrications, warped rationalizations and unsubstantiated allegations.
Robert Groden, The Killing of a President (Viking, 1993). A collection of assassination-related photos, including some of Groden's controversial color autopsy photos of JFK. The flaws and omissions are legion, but most researchers will want a copy on their bookshelves.
Warren Hinckle and William Turner, Deadly Secrets (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1992). An expanded version of The Fish Is Red (1981). The theory that anti-Castro Cubans and CIA rogues killed Kennedy in retaliation for JFK's "soft" stance on Cuba and the Bay of Pigs disaster. William Turner was one of Jim Garrison's most important enablers, and he and Hinckle share Garrison's tendency to place undue emphasis on the unsubstantiated statements of easily impeachable witnesses.
James P. Hosty, Jr., with Thomas C. Hosty, Assignment: Oswald (Arcade Publications, 1996). So many researchers have accused FBI agent Jim Hosty of all kinds of evil-doings; it's a breath of fresh air to be able to read his own side of the story. This book really is a must-read, particularly for Hosty's insights into the cover-up that followed the assassination. True, he goes off the rails at the end and endorses some unsubstantiated information, some of which will be familiar to those who've read Gus Russo's Live by the Sword or Jean Davison's Oswald's Game. When Hosty sticks to his first-hand knowledge, the book is more than worthwhile.
Seth Kantor, The Ruby Cover-up (Zebra, 1992, originally published as Who Was Jack Ruby?). Kantor offers a shabby case for Ruby as paid Oswald hitman, though he unexpectedly argues for Ruby's innocence regarding the Kennedy assassination itself.
James Kirkwood, American Grotesque (Simon & Schuster, 1970). The only detailed account ever written of the trial of Clay Shaw, the only individual ever tried for conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Recommended to anyone who's seen JFK and wonders why the media complained so loudly about it.
Ray and Mary La Fontaine, Oswald Talked (Pelican, 1996). Endless speculation masquerading as "new evidence." It's hard to believe the book is still in print.
Patricia Lambert, False Witness: The Real Story of the Jim Garrison Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film JFK (M. Evans and Company, 1999). The title says it all -- a very important book.
Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966; Thunder's Mouth, 1992). A defense brief for Oswald -- useful, though weak in comparison to other similar ventures. Lane is not above misrepresenting the evidence in his "client's" favor, and his treatment of Jack Ruby is indefensible.
Mark Lane, Plausible Denial (Thunder's Mouth, 1991). A lame and frankly dishonest attempt to implicate Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt in the assassination. Lane's star witness is former Castro mistress Marita Lorenz -- see Fonzi, The Last Investigation for a firsthand demonstration of her nonexistent credibility.
Lincoln Lawrence and Kenn Thomas (editor), Mind Control, Oswald & JFK: Were We Controlled? (Steamshovel Press, 1997) Originally published in 1967, Were We Controlled is one of the great junk books on the assassination -- a slim volume setting forth the admitted rumor that Lee Harvey Oswald had a "Radio-Hypnotic Intracerebral Control" device implanted in his brain by the Soviets and became a "hypnoprogrammed" Manchurian Candidate-type assassin. The thing would be long forgotten had Dick Russell, a believer in a "mind control" theory of the assassination, not discussed it at length in The Man Who Knew Too Much. I had to buy a copy.
David Lifton, Best Evidence (Macmillan, 1980; Carroll & Graf, 1988). The dreaded body alteration theory -- that Kennedy's corpse was "altered" to fool the autopsists. Harrison Livingstone's High Treason 2 demolishes Lifton's theory, and Lifton refuses to respond. Out of print.
Harrison Livingstone and Robert Groden, High Treason (Conservatory Press, 1989; Berkley, 1990; Carroll and Graf, 1998). A dreadful follow-up of sorts to Summers' Conspiracy, with a tendency to cite hearsay as fact.
Harrison Livingstone, High Treason 2 (Carroll & Graf, 1991). Drawing upon extensive interviews with key medical eyewitnesses, Livingstone offers a scenario that would seem to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the physical evidence, though it still entails the forgery of the autopsy photographs and X-rays. A valuable read, even if one doesn't accept his theory.
Harrison Livingstone, Killing the Truth (Carroll & Graf, 1993). The truth about the HSCA's "acoustics evidence," further discussion of the physical evidence, and some provocative but unsubstantiated allegations regarding the origins of the alleged assassination plot. A patchy book, but one I'm glad to have on my bookshelf.
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