We at Mind Over Mystery do not intend to devote a lifetime of study to details, perhaps meaningful details but perhaps meaningless, given the poor return on investment of time this has meant for countless others. But we do hope to offer some overarching wisdom on how the JFK Assassination fits in to the overall picture of mystery studies, to highlight the most important perspectives, to save the reader time and frustration with other potential avenues.
With hundreds upon hundreds of books published on the subject (though many not worth the paper they’re printed on), it’s hard to know where to begin in pointing a Mystery Analyst on a productive path of discovery. But the reading and study needs to begin somewhere– Our recommendations:
The published version of the Report of the Warren Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (1964). Our edition in the M.O Mystery Library is only 726 pages including index, a far cry from the full documentation which runs dozens of volumes. This condensed book is all that most people need to understand the thrust, and important details, of the report.
Final Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (originally from 1978). The overall summary is still available in published form. A huge flaw in the work is not so much the ill-fated reliance on acoustic evidence, really just a minor blip in history. The tragedy is that the Chief Counsel to the committee, Robert Blakey, then age 41 but only 14 years-old based on naivety, was thoroughly outmaneuvered by the CIA and essentially got nowhere in determining if any government secrets had a clear bearing on Kennedy’s death. Years later, Blakey himself decried the Agency as essentially composed of inveterate liars who always put agency and career above honesty with tax-paying citizens.
The seminal Rush to Judgment (1966), by attorney Mark Lane, is the early book that perhaps sparked a half-century of suspicion of the ‘official story’ as represented by the Warren Commission report. On the surface of its pages and facts, it seems to uncover both distinct bias towards a pre-determined investigative outcome, and fast and loose investigative practices. On closer examination it may represent much ado about relatively little, with Lane having gone at the subject with pre-conceived notions–the government usually lies about important things and thus surely has here–that mirror back the supposed biases that the government held in promulgating its “lone-nut” theory of the assassination.
But, required reading for the serious student of the Kennedy assassination.
In many ways Lane’s later Plausible Denial (1991), based on a civil trial in which he attempted to pry the truth from current and former CIA agents, might be even more important. The ultimate relevance of all the testimony to November 22, 1963, may be limited. But Lane did underscore that our nation’s clandestine services cannot always be trusted to reveal what an objective observer would call “the truth,” recalling the retired CIA official who allowed that “lying is our stock-in-trade.”
Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History (2007), at well over one million words total, stands as the most thorough discussion of Assassination evidence ever assembled or ever likely to be. The famed prosecutor concluded that abundant, overwhelming evidence reveals Oswald and Ruby as lone actors, and an overwhelming lack of evidence after 50 years, not to mention lack of any logical scenario, should relegate theories of conspiracy to the dust bin if not the loony bin. Thus the words “reclaiming history” refer to an attempt to bring America back to facts and sanity in his estimation, after hundreds upon hundreds of books which allege some sort of intriguing conspiracy, based on flimsy evidence and logic.
Opinions of the book differ based on initial bias. Those inclined to believe or be persuaded by the Occam’s Razor explanation of events–the two lone nuts–have a million words of foundation, and are likely to view Reclaiming History as a tour de force. Those convinced that original lies–the investigations–have been followed by books that merely pound in the disinformation are likely to be skeptical, even hostile to Bugliosi and his motives.
True, if all government agencies have engaged in nothing but disinformation from the start, then books largely based on official documents have a poor foundation. But that would in and of itself involve hundreds, thousands of players in collusion, keeping a secret among themselves for years and decades on end, an almost impossible scenario. Those who believe that the game is totally rigged will never be convinced that any simple, non-conspiratorial explanations have validity, but as Bugliosi says there’s no rational discussion possible, “it’s a religion with these people.”
In any event, we believe the huge, unwieldy tome (too big to sit with comfortably in your lap) should be a core part of the library of any serious Assassination researcher.
Jim Moore’s Conspiracy of One (1997) serves as the anti-Bugliosi in one sense–although he also came to believe in simple, lone nuts committing the crime, he boils his writing down to lean, readable essentials. A typical Assassination fanatic from a young age, he originally assumed wide and nefarious conspiracy, but ultimately decided the facts and logic simply lined up with Oswald getting lucky, so to speak, that fateful day. If you don’t like plodding though dense volumes but want the Oswald-Ruby theory in a very straightforward nutshell, this is the one book to read. Moore is the Real McCoy as an assassination expert, by the way: you should hear him interviewed on live radio and field any question that comes his way with masterful command of the facts.
Gaeton Fonzi’s 1993 book The Last Investigation may be worth a look. A hard-driving investigative reporter who got himself hired on to the House Select Committee on Assassinations staff in the late 1970’s, he came to feel that the HSCA wanted to soft-sell anything provocative and manipulate its investigation to sustain the status-quo of the Warren Commission report. He ended up with very little regard for the investigative integrity of Robert Blakey and the other powers on the committee. But in the end, what does Fonzi really give us, for all his hundreds of (well written) pages? He says conspiracy rises as certain on the basis, alone, of Oswald supposedly popping up at Sylvia Odio’s house in the company of rabid anti-Castro activists. But no compelling logic connects Oswald’s dalliance with radical groups (born of his desperate need for self-importance) with his last-minute opportunity to bring a rifle to a window overlooking Kennedy and set his sights on Kennedy’s skull. There may be very little beef in the sandwich at the end of the day, but Fonzi did have a ring-side seat at the last attempt to bring full government subpoena power to the whole JFK assassination conundrum.
Marina and Lee: The Tormented Love and Fatal Obsession Behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s Assassination of John F. Kennedy,reissued in 2013, by Priscilla Johnson McMillan, is considered an early classic in Oswald biography.
Case Closed, by Gerald Posner, 1993, is a well-known and controversial review of the assassination, definitely “biased” in the sense that Posner rejects conspiracy theories. His intense, well-written focus on Lee Oswald’s life bring it into the biography section as well…an important read.
*…take your pick…. That is, the subgenre of books which focus on Oswald runs to the many dozens. Many, even most, are junk (ladies claiming illicit romances with Oswald that never happened, books that posit “a second Oswald” impersonator running around for years, that sort of nonsense) but look them over on a good book site, and read what you wish.
Who Was Jack Ruby? (1978), Seth Kantor, was written by the journalist who says he encountered Ruby at Parkland Hospital after the shooting (quite plausible, we think–Ruby was the ultimate busy-body) Worth some study overall.
…again, take your pick… The books that purport to know or expose something about these key characters, Oswald and Ruby, go on and on. The earlier publication dates tend to be saner than the more recent, if only because to have something new and sellable authors have had to stretch farther and farther into the sensational (and sometimes absurd).. But look over the entire field and study the materials you think may have some validity.
Also don’t forget the books which are overall compendia, such as the huge work by Bugliosi (Reclaiming History), whose sections on Oswald and Ruby’s backgrounds are almost as comprehensive a lot of the dedicated works. Overall, there’s lots of biographical material out there to grapple with.