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Watching the Detectives

An Armchair Guide to the Crime of the Century

Copyright © 2000-2011 by David Reitzes

 

John McAdams, JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think about Claims of Conspiracy (Potomac Books, 2011). Most books on the assassination argue for a particular position (conspiracy vs. no conspiracy, domestic government conspiracy vs. Mafia conspiracy, etc.), presenting evidence in support of that position and seeking to explain away (or, in many cases, distorting or simply omitting) evidence that contradicts the author's case. This extraordinarily useful book takes a radically different approach, demonstrating how to evaluate evidence and utilize logic to reach a better understanding of what happened on November 22, 1963.

Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee (Harper & Row, 1977). Readers of a certain age may be tempted to call this "Men Who Shoot Presidents and the Women who Love Them." Conspiracy theorists tend to dislike this book because it supports the Warren Report's conclusions that Oswald acted alone in JFK's murder; but the focus is definitely on Lee and Marina Oswald's marriage, and fills quite a gap in that respect. The amateurish attempts at posthumous psychoanalysis, however, should definitely have been deep-sixed.

Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale (Random House, 1993). A flimsy excuse for an Oswald biography, Mailer's book is valuable only for its first-ever interviews of a number of Oswald's USSR associates, who, it must be admitted, don't have a whole lot to say.

William Manchester, The Death of a President (Popular Library, 1968). A great book, though not a great assassination research book, Manchester's is the only account that captures JFK's last hours, the impact his death had on the nation, and the "changing of the guards" that followed.

Jim Marrs, Crossfire (Carroll & Graf, 1989). A comprehensive compendium of JFK conspiracy-related facts and lore, with a great deal of useful and concise background information on the relevant parties and events, but also an unfortunate amount of misinformation and speculation. Proceed with caution.

Sylvia Meagher, Accessories after the Fact (Bobbs-Merrill, 1967; Vintage, 1976). Arguably the most effective and well documented refutation of the Warren Report ever compiled, though now dated in many respects. Meagher sometimes falls into the trap of acting as Oswald advocate rather than impartial investigator, but that doesn't invalidate all of her conclusions. Her section on "mysterious deaths" of eyewitnesses, it must be noted, is an embarrassing lapse in judgment.

 

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Bonar Menninger with Howard Donahue, Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK (St. Martin's Press, 1992). Howard Donahue's theory: A Secret Service agent accidentally fired the fatal shot from the car behind Kennedy. Enough said?

Jim Moore, Conspiracy of One: The Definitive Book on the Kennedy Assassination (Summit, 1990). Quietly published at a time when JFK conspiracy theories were rarely challenged, this reevaluation of the lone assassin theory is marred by an unconvincing shooting scenario, but it's Worth a read -- especially if one's assassination-related diet consists mainly of conspiracy books.

Robert Morrow, First-Hand Knowledge: How I Participated in the CIA-Mafia Plot to Kill JFK (1995). Whether Morrow was a pathological liar or a simple con artist is something of a moot point; this book is fiction from start to finish.

Dale Myers, With Malice (Oak Cliff Press, 1998). This microstudy of the killing of Officer J. D. Tippit, which followed the assassination by about 45 minutes, may well be one of the most important JFK assassination-related books ever published, and it doesn't even discuss the JFK assassination. If Oswald didn't kill Tippit, Myers has certainly set the new standard of evidence for conspiracy theorists to overcome. (Click here for a lengthier review.)

Oleg M. Nechiporenko and Todd P. Bludeau (Translator), Passport to Assassination: The Never-Before-Told Story of Lee Harvey Oswald by the KGB Colonel Who Knew Him (Birch Lane, 1993). An interesting account from one of the Soviet consuls who met with Oswald in Mexico City, including previously unpublished information from KGB files on Oswald's time in the USSR.

Albert Newman, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: The Reasons Why (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1970). Newman goes to a great deal of trouble documenting Oswald's day-to-day activities to prove he killed JFK for political reasons. Even for those who disagree completely with his thesis, Newman's research makes this an unusually useful book. Out of print.

John Newman, Oswald and the CIA (Carroll & Graf, 1995). An examination of Oswald's relationships with US intelligence agencies before the assassination, based on newly declassified documents, John Newman's book makes for some seriously dry reading. A highly controversial section deals with the theory that Oswald was impersonated in Mexico City.

Mark North, Act of Treason (Carroll & Graf, 1991). A terminally dull, unreliable book based on secondary sources, suggesting a passive role for J. Edgar Hoover in a Mafia conspiracy plot.

Gerald Posner, Case Closed (Random House, 1993). Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi: "I agree with all of Posner's conclusions -- that Oswald killed Kennedy and acted alone -- but I disagree with his methodology. There's a credibility problem. When he is confronted with a situation antithetical to the view he's taking, he ignores or distorts it." I liked that quotation when I was a conspiracy theorist, but it seems a little harsh to me now. Posner does a surprisingly strong job of dismantling conspiracy theories and builds a strong case for Oswald's guilt, and does so with considerably fewer words than Bugliosi's Reclaiming History.

L. Fletcher Prouty, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy (Birch Lane, 1993). Prouty, a former Pentagon liaison to the CIA and the basis for Donald Sutherland's "X" character in Oliver Stone's JFK, has a great deal of firsthand knowledge of US covert operations, and some of his allegations deserve serious investigation. As a witness, though, he is no more reliable than anyone else, and his theories often are little more than speculation. Out of print.

 

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Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Bankcroft Press, 1998). The tremendous emphasis placed on JFK's Cuban policies will likely make this a difficult read for assassination newcomers, but Russo's extraordinary research qualifies it for a place on everyone's bookshelf. He doesn't accomplish much in supporting his theories concerning Oswald, but he raises some important new questions, and his research into JFK's relationship with the CIA should be a revelation to anyone who considers the CIA a serious suspect in a JFK conspiracy plot.

Gary Savage, JFK: First Day Evidence (Shoppe Press, 1993). Rusty Livingston worked for decades in the Dallas Police Department's crime lab. Evidence that he rediscovered after all these years throws new light on several age-old issues. Recommended.

David Scheim, Contract on America: The Mafia Murder of President Kennedy (Shapolsky Books, 1988). This is probably the most highly regarded "Mob did it" book around, however little that's saying. Overly reliant on secondary sources and hearsay, it's a fairly typical example of a work whose thesis was clearly determined before any facts were analyzed.

Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (University of California Press, 1993). Harrison Livingstone writes, "Scott is the best scholar at work on the relationships and politics of the murder. His work lacks the forensic underpinnings that establish conspiracy, but by the time Scott finishes constructing a circumstantial case, he has proved it." I no longer agree, but his work can be provocative nonetheless.

Larry Sneed, No More Silence: An Oral History of the Assassination of President Kennedy (Three Forks Press, 1998). An excellent collection of eyewitness accounts, presented in the witnesses' own words.

Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, notes by Jane Rusconi, JFK: The Book of the Film. (Applause, 1992) While there are enormous problems with the film, based largely as it is upon Jim Garrison's farcical investigation and fictional memoirs, it succeeds in its primary objective: to dramatically challenge the official story. This is the shooting script of the film, and it is well annotated and supplemented with a ton of reviews and miscellaneous outraged responses.

Larry M. Sturdivan, JFK Myths: A Scientific Investigation of the Kennedy Assassination (Paragon House, 2005). Having worked with both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, physicist and wound ballistics expert Larry Sturdivan knows the JFK assassination evidence better than practically anyone else, and this book lays it all out in rare detail. He also addresses some of the most prevalent misconceptions surrounding the subject. Regardless of whether you're new to the case or a seasoned veteran, this book will help ensure you're better informed than the vast majority of people who pontificate on the subject.

Anthony Summers, Not in Your Lifetime (Shooting Star Press, 1998; originally published as Conspiracy, McGraw Hill, 1980; Paragon House, 1989, 1991). Summers makes a case for conspiracy, drawing upon the HSCA evidence as well as Summers' own fieldwork.

Kenn Thomas (editor) and "William Torbitt," NASA, Nazis and JFK (Steamshovel Press, 1997, aka "Nomenclature of an Assassination Cabal," self-published, 1970). "William Torbitt" was the pen name of David Copeland, the Texas attorney who represented longtime conspiracy advocate Penn Jones. Despite the wealth of allegations made without even a trace of supporting evidence, there are those who take "Torbitt" quite seriously.

Richard B. Trask, Pictures of the Pain (Yeoman Press, 1994). A detailed, reasonably objective, and exceptionally well researched discussion of the photographic record of the assassination, this is a valuable addition to the existing literature. (The photographic reproductions themselves, however, are only fair.)

Noel Twyman, Bloody Treason (Laurel, 1998). A big, complicated, hyperconspiratorial book that fails on most levels. Twyman's grasp of the forensic evidence is incredibly weak, but true-blue conspiracy theorists will want this for the amount of effort Twyman expended making connections and naming names.

Harold Weisberg, Whitewash (self-published, 1965; Dell, 1966). Whitewash was the first book to allege a systematic pattern of falsification in the Warren Report and remains an important book. Weisberg also deserves enormous credit for tenaciously prying thousands of documents out of government vaults -- sometimes having to resort to litigation in order to do so -- and researchers on all sides of the issue owe him their gratitude for that alone.

Harold Weisberg, Whitewash II: The FBI-Secret Service Coverup (self-published, 1966; Dell, 1966). This sequel sheds some light on how the Warren Commission operated, though it's a very patchy collection.

Harold Weisberg, Post Mortem (self-published, 1969, 1976). A microanalysis of the autopsy evidence, this is admittedly a difficult read but an important book.

Harold Weisberg, Never Again! (Carroll & Graf, 1993). Written in response to the Journal of the American Medical Association's 1992 defense of President Kennedy's autopsy pathologists in the wake of Oliver Stone's JFK, this is an analysis of the President's autopsy and the questions that linger.

 

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