Here are some books of potential interest to our readers that were published in 2023.
The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys―and One Senator's Fight to Save Democracy, by James Risen. Pulitzer-prize winning author James Risen's biography of Idaho Senator Frank Church covers Church's entire life, but the bulk of the book is centered on what has become known as the "Church Committee." An early opponent of the Vietnam War, Church took on the entrenched power of the intelligence agencies in the post-Watergate reform atmosphere, and not only exposed wrongdoing but also got legislation subsequently passed to limit future abuses. The book includes details of the CIA assassination plots and the FBI's campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as lesser-known targets of the investigation, including covert action and "mind control" experimentation. Church's subsequent run for the presidency in 1976 got a late start, and Church had by then made many enemies. Risen calls the committee "Possibly the greatest congressional investigation in modern American history."
The Final Witness: A Kennedy Secret Service Agent Breaks His Silence After Sixty Years, by Paul Landis. Secret Service agent Paul Landis upended the lead-up to the 60th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination with a new story of the finding of the "magic bullet." Landis was Clint Hill's partner and rode in the follow-up car. The first two-thirds of the book is a biography, with stories of his detail protecting presidents Eisenhower and then Kennedy. Then Landis tells his story of finding a whole bullet on the back of the limousine and later putting it on Kennedy's stretcher at Parkland Hospital, generating no little controversary about a bullet whose long history was already hard to believe.
The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination, by Stuart A. Reid. Using the recent declassifications of Church Committee records in the JFK Collection and many other sources, including dozens of interviews, Foreign Affairs editor Reid retells in detail the story of the overthrow and murder of Congo's prime minister Patrice Lumumba. As in Susan Williams' White Malice, the story of Eisenhower's decision that Lumumba had to go is interlaced with racism and a tragic overreaction to Lumumba's outreach for Soviet aid. While the CIA's initial poison plan did not succeed, and Lumumba's death appears to have been at the hands of Katangan enemies in league with Belgian officers, Reid writes that Lumumba was "deposed in a CIA-backed coup" and "transferred to enemy territory in a CIA-approved operation."
A Woman I Know: Female Spies, Double Identities, and a New Story of the Kennedy Assassination, by Mary Haverstick. Documentary filmmaker Mary Haverstick began to create a film about aviation pioneer Jerrie Cobb, and tumbled into a world of female spies and double identities. Using declassified CIA records, she traces the strange parallel and intersecting worlds of Jerrie Cobb and June Cobb, the CIA agent born in the same Oklahoma town as Jerrie and who was a secretary for Castro; June also later played a role in the still-murky Oswald in Mexico City episode. Haverstick's deepening inquiry led her to a new theory about the identify of QJWIN and the operation of the ZR-RIFLE program, and ultimately to Redbird Airport in Dallas and Dealey Plaza. Strap in and fasten seatbelt before reading.
JFK, Oswald and Ruby: Politics, Prejudice and Truth, by Burt W. Griffin. Former Warren Commission staffer Burt Griffin's book is unsurprisingly supportive of the Commission's work. Though given that Griffin was not invited to the Ruby interview in Dallas despite being the Commission's Ruby expert (partner Leon Hubert had by then left the Commission), it is disappointing that he doesn't address that episode or the stack of questions that he and Hubert had presumably wanted answered. Those hoping for insider stories will be disappointed. Griffin speculates that Oswald was hoping the blame for Kennedy's murder would fall on Edwin Walker, without explaining how that was supposed to work. Regarding Ruby, Griffin does at least present the HSCA's conclusion that Ruby had help getting into the police basement to shoot Oswald, but doesn't endorse it.
The JFK Assassination Chokeholds: That Prove There Was a Conspiracy, by James DiEugenio, Matt Crumpton, Paul Bleau, Andrew Iler, and Mark Adamcyzk. DiEugenio and his co-authors lay out ten areas of evidence in the JFK case which they identify as "chokeholds," - arguments which "independently prove that there was a conspiracy in the murder of JFK." The chokeholds range from proof of frontal shots and the single bullet fabrication to Oswald's impersonation and evidence he could not have been on the sixth floor during the shooting, among others. The final chokehold - "Sixty Years of Obstruction of Justice" - reviews the history of obstruction in the case and includes information on the recent Trump and Biden actions around declassification.
Jack Ruby: The Many Faces of Oswald's Assassin, by Danny Fingeroth. This biography of Jack Ruby tells the story of the killer of Lee Harvey Oswald, from birth to his death by cancer in January 1967. Fingeroth writes "The more I research Ruby's life, the less sure I am of precisely why and how he did what he did." A main focus of the book is on Ruby's deteriorating mental condition, informed by the account of Rabbi Hillel Silverman, who visited Ruby regularly in prison. Fingeroth provides some discussion of indications that there may be more to the Ruby story than told by the Warren Commission - indications of gunrunning to Cuba, "mysterious deaths" of some reporters connected to Ruby, the HSCA's conclusion that he Ruby was let into the police basement. etc. - though these are mostly just noted in passing or dismissed. The author concludes "Whether he was a lone nut or part of a conspiracy, the repercussions of his actions will be with us forever."
Prayer Man: More Than a Fuzzy Picture, by Bart Kamp. Bart Kamp's book is a deep dive into the weekend of the JFK assassination in Dallas. The book's title refers to a figure seen in the shadows of the TSBD doorway in frames of the Wiegman and Darnell films; Kamp alleges that none other than Lee Harvey Oswald is seen there. This then leads to a detailed investigation into Oswald's movements, which includes challenging the veracity of the Baker-Truly encounter of Oswald in the lunchroom as told to the Warren Commission. The book's format, including reprints of sections of testimony and interviews from a variety of witnesses, is often more research notes than exposition. The accompanying website, prayer-man.com, contains abundant links to Kamp's numbered references.
Countdown to Dallas: The Incredible Coincidences, Routines, and Blind "Luck" that Brought John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald Together on November 22, 1963, by Paul Brandus. After an opening chapter reviewing eyewitness accounts of the Titanic's sinking to assert the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, Brandus discusses the recent document releases in the JFK case and summarizes the current views of various expert from Larry Hancock and John Newman to Gerald Posner and Phil Shenon. The bulk of the book is then devoted to a retelling of the chronology of Lee Harvey Oswald the violent malcontent, relying heavily on Priscilla Johnson's Marina and Lee. The chronology is interspersed with significant events in JFK's presidency, and culminates in the "incredible coincidences and blind luck" that brought them together. The book ends in Dealey Plaza at 12:30pm on 11/22/63.
Behind the Scenes: Covering the JFK Assassination, by Darwin Payne. As a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, Darwin Payne covered the 1960 Kennedy campaign in Texas, the visit of Adlai Stevenson in the fall of 1963, and of course the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963. He ran to Dealey Plaza after hearing that shots were fired, interviewed Abraham Zapruder (and tried to get Zapruder's film for the Times Herald), interviewed TSBD superintendent Roy Truly, visited the "sniper's nest," and went to Oswald's rooming house at North Beckley. Payne was at the Dallas police department that weekend and writes of the "jungle of reporters" and the chaos there. Overall, an interesting inside account from a Dallas reporter.
The JFK Assassination Decoded: Criminal Forgery in the Autopsy Photographs and X-rays, by David W. Mantik M.D. Mantik has written extensively about the medical evidence in the JFK assassination case, and is probably most famous for asserting forgery in the autopsy X-rays, most specifically around a strange 6.5mm circular spot that was not remarked upon by autopsy doctors and which Mantik, using optical density measurements, showed was absent from the lateral X-rays. This book is a compilation of essays on this work and Mantik's critique of the work of Dr. Randy Robertson, Josiah Thompson, and Pat Speer among others. The last section of the book, entitled JFK's Head Wounds, is a book-within-a-book mostly devoted to an analysis of the Harper fragment, a piece of JFK's skull found in Dealey Plaza which was photographed and analyzed by medical doctors, and then later disappeared.
Oliver Stone's Film-Flam: The Demagogue of Dealey Plaza, by Fred Litwin. Litwin is the author of I Was a Teenage Conspiracy Freak and On the Trail of Delusion. This new book takes as its target the recent JFK assassination documentary by Oliver Stone; according to author Litwin "JFK: Destiny Betrayed spews out additional nonsense, nonsense which is easily debunkable." Different chapters attack the film's treatment of Kennedy's relations with the CIA, the Warren Commission's mission, evidence of a medical cover-up of multiple shooters, chain of custody of the "magic bullet", various issues related to Lee Harvey Oswald, plots to assassinate Kennedy in other cities beyond Dallas, and other episodes presented in the film.
The JFK Files: Pieces of the Assassination Puzzle, by Jeffrey L. Meek. Longtime researcher Jeffrey Meek has written many articles over the years, and collects many of them together in this book. Meek obtained interviews with various persons involved in the JFK assassination story, including Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, HSCA analyst Dan Hardway, medical expert Dr. Cyril Wecht, journalist Jeff Morley, Secret Service agent Mike Howard, witnesses Bill and Gayle Newman, Zapruder film expert Roland Zavada, ARRB head Judge John Tunheim, Ruth Paine, and others. He weaves stories from these interviews alongside discussion of topics from the Odio Incident to the House on Harlandale to George de Mohrenschildt and more.
White House by the Sea: A Century of the Kennedys at Hyannis Port, by Kate Storey. A change of pace from the assassination focus of most books on this page, Storey's book is a sort of biography of the Kennedy family's compound at Hyannis Port on the Massachusetts seacoast. Reviewer Julie Satow writes: "A rare peek behind the hedges and fences of Hyannis Port, weaving tales of triumph and despair to render a complex generational portrait of a family built on love and ambition but torn asunder by success and competition." The book's photo section includes abundant color and black-and-white pictures of family members, friends, and associates.
MFF had no books roundup feature in 2022; here are some notable books from last year.
Scorpions' Dance: The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate, by Jefferson Morley. This book focuses on the tense relations and power struggle between President Richard Nixon and his CIA Director Richard Helms. Nixon famously attempted without success to enlist the CIA's intervention into the FBI's burgeoning investigation of the Watergate break-in; the burglars themselves were a who's who of CIA assets. Morley writes: "Nixon and Helms then circled each other like scorpions, defending themselves with the threat of lethal attack." The book relays Morley's judgment on the meaning of Nixon's command to his chief of staff Haldeman to get Helms on board by warning that "this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing."
Uncovering Popov's Mole: The Assassination of President Kennedy, Volume IV, by John M. Newman. Volume IV of John Newman's series on the assassination of President Kennedy is a very deep dive into the topic of "Popov's Mole,", a topic first tied to Oswald and the JFK assassination by Peter Dale Scott in the Fourth Decade. Counterintelligence chief James Angleton's hunt for the Soviet Mole within the CIA tore the Agency apart until Angleton's ouster in 1974. Newman believes he has found the identity of the mole and presents his evidence in this book. The MFF has a resource page for this book which provides links to declassified documents cited by Newman.
The Kennedy Assassinations: JFK and Bobby Kennedy - Debunking The Conspiracy Theories, by Mel Ayton. This slim book is a compilation of the author's essays on the JFK and RFK assassinations, most originally published on John McAdams' website, History News Network, Crime Magazine, and Washington Decoded. The JFK half of the book starts with an essay deriding conspiracy theories in general, followed by pieces on Oswald's life, Jack Ruby, Mark Lane, and the possibility of a Castro connection to the crime. The RFK half purports to debunk theories related to Sirhan Sirhan and hypnotism, the girl in the Polka dotted dress, the question of how Sirhan could have shot RFK at point-blank range, and acoustics evidence, and addresses the issue of motive and Sirhan's politics.
Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination: Debunking the Myths and Conspiracy Theories, by Michel Jacques Gagne. This book by a self-identified "recovering conspiracist" is part of a series entitled "Conspiracy Theories." The first part of the book is devoted to writing about the history of the JFK conspiracy movement and attempting to explain its causes. The author then takes on particular theories regarding the Mafia, the CIA, etc., along with his analysis of the medical and ballistics evidence, the backyard photographs, Zapruder film authenticity, and Lee Harvey Oswald. Some of the book consists of theorizing about conspiracy theories, but the evidence-based discussions are written clearly enough to be useful for those who may wish to challenge their beliefs in particular theories or aspects of the case.
America's Last President: What the World Lost When It Lost John F. Kennedy, by Monika Wiesak. This self-published book explores the speeches, statements, and actions of John F. Kennedy to explore the meaning of "a president who genuinely worked in the public's interest." The author writes of her growing realization that Kennedy's public image "as a careless, thoughtless, self-involved playboy obscured the depth of what he was trying to achieve and the intensity of the opposition he faced." Chapters focus on foreign policy conflicts - the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Congo, Berlin, disarmament - and also domestic issues Kennedy faced during his time in office, from civil rights to the steel crisis. A passionate tribute.
G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, by Beverly Gage. This Pulitzer Prize winning biography of the famed FBI Director tries to find a balance between glowing accounts of Hoover on the one hand and depictions of him as a law-breaking tyrant on the other. Even a book this thick has a lot of ground to cover. Those interested in Gage's account of Hoover in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination and Hoover's frosty relations with the Warren Commission will find just two short chapters. Gage seems nonplussed by Hoover's phone call with LBJ on 11/23 relaying information of a Mexico City imposter (its later erasure goes unremarked), followed the next day by Hoover's post-Ruby message that "The thing I am most concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin." Regarding Hoover's overall legacy, Gage notes that the Church Committee wrote that "a long line of Attorneys General, Presidents, and Congresses" had acceded to and enabled the FBI's abuses under Hoover.