My drive-to-school audiobook saga continues! My second audiobook was Bill O’Reilly’s (and Martin Dugard’s) Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot. The few historical and biographical works I’d read previously to this one tended to be dry—often assigned—and usually dealt with people long dead. This story proved fundamentally different stylistically in several ways.
O’Reilly begins with JFK’s inauguration and works his way through his administration: up to the moment of his death, and also concerning the aftermath. Along the way, the author provides intimate, humorous, touching, and tragic stories that enhance and complement JFK’s narrative. For instance, individual deaths of those intertwined in the religious and political struggles overseas; friends of the president’s who played significant roles in his administration; and even the heartbreaking story of the death of Kennedy’s second son, Patrick, less than 48 hours after his birth. O’Reilly’s imagery and the interesting facts sprinkled throughout the story keep it from being a dry historical account of JFK’s years in office. It doesn’t simply move in a straight or predictable line.
In addition, O’Reilly balances this emotion well: accounts of Buddhist suicides are countered with heartwarming accounts of the president’s trip to interact with adoring Irish citizens—the land where JFK’s ancestors hailed from. In the midst of Patrick’s struggle for life, little details, such as the fact that the infant was assigned a single secret service agent, bring depth and humanity to the scene (this was one of the comments that stuck with me most notably throughout the rest of the book for some reason).
O’Reilly doesn’t paint JFK in the angelic light that perhaps some other historians have (not being well read on him, I’m not positive this is the case; though, I know he is considered one of the most popular leaders in American history). The author renders him sympathetic, yet flagrantly flawed in more than one respect. Perhaps it is this imperfect nature, and the relatable shortcomings recounted amidst his triumphs, that render O’Reilly’s JFK sympathetic to a degree.
Again, not being a buff on the subject, I’d only heard some details—and probably forgotten most of them before I reached this point in the book—about JFK’s assassination. The drama of about the last fifth—the gradual building to a few crucial minutes of narration—was absolutely effective. I literally had my mouth open at some points (yes, while I was driving to school) at the graphic and wrenching nature of the facts Bill O’Reilly communicated. Even if you’ve been educated on this event, the author makes the valid point that conspiracy theories and intricate speculation has perhaps detracted from the humanity of the occasion, and the real people whose lives it irrevocably altered (the entire nation, of course, included). That humanity certainly came through in this rendition.
If you’ve never heard a full accounts of JFK’s presidency—or, if you’re like me, and historical biographies aren’t your subject of expertise—you should try Bill O’Reilly’s book as a kind of entry point. It reads like a novel, which makes it preferable for those less versed in the genre. All in all, I’d give it 5 stars, both for Bill O’Reilly’s writing voice and narration, and for the focus—breadth—that the work encompasses. It has great appeal. 🙂
What are you reading right now? Who was the last figure, historical or contemporary, that you explored? Leave me a comment, and have a great day!