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2020 Books


Here are some books of potential interest to our readers that were published in 2020.

Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932-1975, by Neal Gabler. This lengthy book, the first of a two-part biography of Ted Kennedy, sets the younger Kennedy brother's life in the context of the arc of liberalism in American politics. Unlike his more famous brothers Jack and Bobby, Ted worked tirelessly in the Senate as a legislator, forging compromises and passing laws amid the headwinds of rising conservatism. Historian Jon Meacham writes that "Gabler has crafted a memorable and moving portrait of the last Kennedy brother, which is also a portrait of the last great creative era of governance in the United States."


Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-Up & Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House, by Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's podcast of the same name has now been followed by the story in book format. Bag Man tells the tale of the investigation of Nixon's Vice-President Spiro Agnew for bribery dating from his days as Maryland Governor, but even continuing into the White House. Agnew's public fight with the media and the "establishment" has modern echoes; he ultimately resigned rather than face criminal charges. The authors highlight the fact that the Justice Department's position on whether a sitting president can be indicted dates from analysis hastily drawn up in the face of Agnew's pending indictment.


Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight, edited with an introduction by Jon Weiner. The Netflix movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 has cast a spotlight on the turbulent year 1968, and the massive protests and police backlash at the Democratic national convention in Chicago. In the aftermath, the Nixon administration conducted a conspiracy trial against the protest's leaders, dramatized in the film. This book is a set of condensed excerpts from the transcript of the trial, illuminating key moments from it using the actual words spoken.



JFK vs. Allen Dulles: Battleground Indonesia, by Dr. Greg Poulgrain, with introduction by Oliver Stone and afterword by James DiEugenio. This book retells the story of the horrific mass killings in Indonesia in the mid-1960s in the context of President Kennedy's encouragement of independence movements, versus entrenched colonial interests supported since the 1950s by Allen Dulles among others. Includes material on the death of UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold and other events in that timeframe. The book is somewhat dense and those unfamiliar with the history of Indonesia in this era might benefit from other reading such as Geoffrey Robinson's The Killing Season.


On the Trail of Delusion: Jim Garrison, The Great Accuser, by Fred Litwin. The author of I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak has written a searing indictment of the Garrison investigation and District Attorney Jim Garrison's pursuit of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw. While providing damning documentatation regarding the Perry Russo story and many other characters in the saga, the take-no-prisoners approach may find some readers checking other sources such as Bill Davy's Let Justice Be Done (which may cause a reaction reminiscent of JFK's admonition of two advisors visiting Vietnam: "You two did visit the same country, didn't you?").


The Other Oswald: A Wilderness of Mirrors, The Story of Lee Harvey Oswald and Robert E. Webster, by Gary Hill. The heart of this book is the author's recounting of the eerie parallels between two defectors to the Soviet Union - Lee Harvey Oswald and Robert E. Webster, whose defection and return to the U.S. both preceded Oswald's by just weeks. The book's focus on the fascinating details and meaning of these defections then widens out into perhaps too many other persons and topics from George de Mohrenschildt and the Paines to the Tippit shooting to QJWIN and Michael Mertz and Jolly West to Mexico City and more. Preface by Bill Simpich and Foreword by Walt Brown.


Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization, by Joe Scarborough. John F. Kennedy's assassination occurred in the context of the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This short and readable book by Morning Joe's host Joe Scarborough recounts the origins of the Cold War in the Truman administration. The decision to come to the aid of Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of World War II, as a bulwark against communist expansion, was not a foregone conclusion but something rather that Truman and his State Department worked hard to implement. Other less savory aspects of these early endeavors, such as the bags of money the CIA used to influence the 1948 Italian election, are not covered.


All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia, by Matthew Algeo. This book is a quirky but interesting look at a few days in February 1968, when Robert Kennedy visited eastern Kentucky "coal country" to see the poverty there firsthand. The author intermixes details of Kennedy's meetings and activities there, which included one-man hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty, with the stories of people he encountered. Algeo interviewed some of the participants many years later for additional perspective. RFK announced his candidacy for the presidency a month after this visit, and was killed in Los Angeles less than 3 months after that.


The Life and Deaths of Cyril Wecht: Memoirs of American's Most Controversial Forensic Pathologies, by Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D. and Jeff Sewald. Dr. Cyril Wecht is the former coroner of Allegheny County, one of the 9 members of the HSCA's medical panel, the founder of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University, and the host of prominent conferences there on the JFK assassination. His passionate denunciation of the Single Bullet Theory has been a major part of his life's work. This book, co-written with Jeff Sewald, has a chapter on JFK and RFK, set in the context of a fuller autobiography.


The Devil is in the Details: Alan Dale with Malcolm Blunt on the Assassination of President Kennedy, with an introduction by John Newman. Malcolm Blunt is the researcher's researcher, perhaps more familiar with the declassified files of the CIA, ARRB, and Church Committee than anyone. In this book of interviews conducted by Alan Dale (and in some cases joined by John Newman), his mastery of details in the CIA's records comes through. In constant danger of going too far "into the weeds", the interviews nonetheless provide an abundance of insights and directional clues for those conducting research on Oswald, CIA operations, and much more.


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