The death of a president, November 20-November 25, 1963

by William Manchester

Hardcover, 1967




New York, Harper & Row [1967]


As the world still reeled from the tragic and historic events of November 22, 1963, William Manchester set out, at the request of the Kennedy family, to create a detailed, authoritative record of President John F. Kennedy's death, including the days immediately preceding and following the assassination. Through hundreds of interviews, extensive travel, and firsthand observation, and with unique access to the proceedings of the Warren Commission, Manchester conducted an exhaustive historical investigation, accumulating forty-five volumes of documents, exhibits, and transcribed tapes. His ultimate objective-to set down as a whole the national and personal tragedy that was JFK's assassination-is brilliantly achieved in this galvanizing narrative, a book universally acclaimed as a landmark work of modern history.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member CDianeK
When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was a few weeks away from my first birthday, so it is obviously not one of those "where were you" historical touchstones for me. His presidency had not yet hit the history books when I was going through school. But his life, and more so his death, have always been fascinating to me. I did not know of the existence of this book until its story appeared in a recent edition of Vanity Fair magazine, at which time I sought it out.

This book is dense, and was at first, very difficult to read. But that is due to the meticulous research and the no-stone-unturned style of the writing. I'm very glad I stayed with it. The cast of characters, because it is non-fiction, is huge, and Mr. Manchester must have touched base with every one of them, or those that survived those five days, that is.

What struck me most as I was reading this is how the political climate in November of 1963 is so very similar to that of today. The text of the speech that President Kennedy was on his way to deliver when he was killed resonated with me heavily as I read it. I don't want to get all political, but I can say with all seriousness that realizing how very deeply divided the country was almost 50 years ago gives me hope that we are repeating cycles and not, in fact, about to collapse upon ourselves because of all the hate.

It's been said that Kennedy's presidency remains in the forefront of our culture because his was the first to be played out on television. This, of course and unfortunately, continued through his death. I was surprised to read here that a study conducted after the assassination revealed that by roughly 30 minutes after the shooting, 68% of all adults - at the time, 75 million people - knew of it. That's an impressive number, lower than today's standards, certainly, but still impressive for a time when people relied on three television networks and radio. I don't know of a specific number, but certainly Oswald's murder remains one of the few captured live by television cameras. And of course, those who chose to do so were able to follow the funeral procession on November 25th.

The confusion of the hours surrounding the assassination was well presented, and not a little disheartening, even as I realize that it was almost inevitable. Jackie's "Let them see what they've done" in her refusal to change her bloodstained clothing was heartbreaking, as was the reaction of the Kennedy children. I think what touched me the most profoundly though, was the men who stopped what they were doing or got out of their cars to salute the hearse transporting the president's body from Bethesda to the White House at four-ish in the morning following his autopsy.

I know that Mr. Manchester tangled with Robert Kennedy and was sued by Jackie Kennedy after being commissioned to write the book, but despite that, or perhaps because of it, the book was very fair to the family. In fact, he seemed fair to everyone involved, though scoffing at the conspiracy theories that were simply in their infancy at the time he wrote it.

Despite the great sadness I felt when I finished reading it, I remain glad I did.
… (more)
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Manchester describes the two factions of White House staff after the assassination as 'loyalists', those true to Kennedy who were devastated by his death, and 'realists', who were dedicated to the office, and quickly realised that Johnson needed their support; after reading this book, I would class myself as a 'loyalist'. I only wanted to read about the Kennedys and those close to them, not the raw start to Johnson's administration - and certainly not Oswald.

This is a heartbreaking account, based on the facts available at the time, and on interviews with Jackie Kennedy and those closely involved with the events surrounding November 23, 1963, but to me, it is the death of a charismatic and inspiring man, not the President of the United States, or Johnson's predecessor. Particularly, I will ever after admire Jackie for her graceful composure and strength, and no amount of mudslinging will detract from Kennedy's intelligence, appeal or impact on history.

An engrossing book, concise and yet far from dry - the plainly reported observations of how a country reacted to the President's death, from his family to the thousands of people who paid their last respects in Washington, is devastating to read.
… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Manchester is one of my favorite writers and this was my introduction to his work. Reading about Kennedy, whose death I still remember as I was a Freshman in high school sitting in geometry class when along with my classmates I was startled to hear the radio announcement over the school speaker system. This coming as an interruption to our day and so soon after his death was new experience, as was being let out of school early that day. This was history based on events through which I lived, about which I had spent time reading in the daily papers and weekly news magazines as they happened. It was the first, but not the last time I would find the history of events that occurred during my life to be even more interesting than they seemed to be at the time I experienced them.… (more)
LibraryThing member RcCarol
I cannot tell you where I was when Kennedy was shot because I wasn't yet alive. By the time I became interested in the world around me, Kennedy's aura had dimmed somewhat, with tales of his infidelities in specific and society's increasing disillusionment with government and politics in general. So I was quite unprepared for the depths emotions that I would experience while reading this book. I felt the power of the Kennedy charisma, awe of Jackie's strength in the aftermath of her very public grief, horror at the power of an assassin to make himself permanently associated with the Kennedy legend. Manchester is a powerful writer, and he weaves together this narrative into a beautiful yet devastating read. His admiration of the Kennedy family is obvious, yet appropriate. I have heard that the Kennedy family was upset about the book after its publication. That is a shame. It is the perfect testament to the death of a great man and leader, who affected the world far more than most Americans (especially those of us in the "slacker" generation) knew. All of the Kennedy's are treated with great respect in relation to their importance to their brother and their grief at his early loss.
There are some disconcerting elements in the book that the writer could not have foreseen. The book was published in 1967, so no one knew yet that RFK would not survive the decade. No one knew that Jacqueline Kennedy would marry Aristotle Onasis (although he does make an appearance in the narrative) and later die young of cancer. No one knew that the little boy who finally gave a perfect salute to his father's coffin would die a very premature death three decades later. This knowledge only made it more poignant for me as I read the book.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is highly readable and very literate. And it certainly helped fill in holes in my knowledge.
… (more)
LibraryThing member redsox0407
The Death of a President is outstanding!!! This book is probably the most emotional book I have ever read and I am not an emotional person by any stretch of the imagination. Manchester writes with an amazing flair and is so detailed in the events and emotions of the people directly involved and associated with those fateful five days, that you feel as though he was there throughout the whole ordeal. It is a superb work on the subject of JFK's assasination and the mood of the country at the time.… (more)
LibraryThing member srbankhead
I've read this book three times over the years. An awesome account of the entire four days in November, 1963.
LibraryThing member DeaconBernie
Manchester's books are thoroughly researched, revealing information that was unknown or glossed over by lesser authors. This book is no different. It is prodigiously detailed book about just a few days in Nobember 1963. Read several years after the fact, it is also good history.
LibraryThing member JohnJohnsonII
very detailed, but not very readable.



Page: 0.3174 seconds