Sunday, October 06, 2013
JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF ALEX COX'S THE PRESIDENT AND THE PROVOCATEUR
What a pleasure to discover a book of this quality near the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. As someone with an enduring interest in the subject who has read a variety of books, I assure readers that here is one of the best and most informative books written on the subject since Anthony Summers’ original Conspiracy of 1980.
Alex Cox has not done the same kind of original investigation that Anthony Summers did (indeed, it is too late in time even to attempt that again), but his approach is that of extracting and assembling the key findings of other studies and investigations, and it is a valuable approach when done well, as it very much is here. The timeline method of highlighting two parallel lives yields some eyebrow-raising coincidences and discoveries not commonly found with other approaches.
Perspective, and not mere recitation of facts like data points on a scatter graph, is an important element to understanding historical events, and a powerful perspective is what this book offers, perhaps more so than any other.
Mr. Cox gives us a fact-packed and well-written narrative, and he doesn’t waste a sentence telling his story. You will be riveted by the text. Importantly, here Oswald is not regarded as a villain and Kennedy not over-rated as a saint. Indeed, it is a major flaw in perhaps the majority of books on the subject to assume the opposite of one of these characterizations.
Despite the graceful and polished public image, the Kennedys were often unattractive people who made many enemies as their driving ambitions scraped against or crushed the interests of others, although one believes by the time he was killed, the President had learned some hard and valuable lessons about governing and was on his way to some worthy achievement.
Oswald was, as goes the typical recitation of his background, a poor young man with little formal education and a chaotic upbringing, but he was also a young man with talent and decent motives (and, indeed, a man possessing the rather typical American patriotic views of his time) seeking an interesting and unconventional life of service when he got sucked up into powerful, murderous events he never fully understood.
The insights offered in this book include not just facts and issues around the assassination but a deadly accurate (I did live through these years) sense of the poisonous and complex political atmosphere in the United States during the late 1950s and early 1960s.