Monday, March 10, 2014

Dallas 1963

Book 14 of my 2014 Reading Challenge.

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

Summary (via Goodreads)

In the months and weeks before the fateful November 22nd, 1963, Dallas was brewing with political passions, a city crammed with larger-than-life characters dead-set against the Kennedy presidency. These included rabid warriors like defrocked military general Edwin A. Walker; the world's richest oil baron, H. L. Hunt; the leader of the largest Baptist congregation in the world, W.A. Criswell; and the media mogul Ted Dealey, who raucously confronted JFK and whose family name adorns the plaza where the president was murdered. On the same stage was a compelling cast of marauding gangsters, swashbuckling politicos, unsung civil rights heroes, and a stylish millionaire anxious to save his doomed city.
Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis ingeniously explore the swirling forces that led many people to warn President Kennedy to avoid Dallas on his fateful trip to Texas. Breathtakingly paced, Dallas 1963 presents a clear, cinematic, and revelatory look at the shocking tragedy that transformed America. Countless authors have attempted to explain the assassination, but no one has ever bothered to explain Dallas-until now.
With spellbinding storytelling, Minutaglio and Davis lead us through intimate glimpses of the Kennedy family and the machinations of the Kennedy White House, to the obsessed men in Dallas who concocted the climate of hatred that led many to blame the city for the president's death. Here at long last is an accurate understanding of what happened in the weeks and months leading to John F. Kennedy's assassination. Dallas 1963 is not only a fresh look at a momentous national tragedy but a sobering reminder of how radical, polarizing ideologies can poison a city-and a nation.

My Opinion

Fascinating.  By focusing on the dynamics of Dallas and including so much backstory (a more accurate title would be "Dallas 1960-1963"), it took an unexpectedly different approach to the events leading to the assassination of President Kennedy.  

It was full of detail but not overpowering and I learned a lot of new things, including:  
 - Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to kill General Walker (he shot through a window and grazed him because the bullet hit a windowpane first) a few months before killing JFK; his wife knew but didn't turn him in.
 - So many people warned the president against visiting Dallas because of the unrest, LBJ had planned the following joke during a speech in Austin, the town they planned to visit after Dallas (but didn't reach, obviously) - "And thank God, Mr. President, that you came out of Dallas alive".
 - Dallas police prepared for the visit by "testing all radios and walkie-talkies, making sure to install fresh batteries in each unit".  This was a sign of the times that made me chuckle.

While comparing the unrest in our country then and now, I realize no one decade holds the monopoly on divisiveness, craziness, or hypocrites (General Walker's private relationships with men occurred as he publicly railed against homosexuality).  I have my theories but drawing more specific parallels is a conversation best had in person.  

This book will only appeal to a certain audience but I highly recommend it if you're in that audience. 

Quote from the Book

"A few weeks earlier, [Kennedy} met in the White House with Jim Bishop, the author of The Day Lincoln Was Shot.  Kennedy said his feelings about assassination were similar to Lincoln's: 'Any man willing to exchange his life for mine can do so'."

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