Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek

Source: Harper Collins
Hardcover, 512 pages
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Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek (who was inspired to write the book after a poll similar to a recent one in Politico) is a highly detailed account of the Kennedy White House, but it also provides an inside look at the political machine the United States has become — from the bureaucrats with aspirations to rise above their stations to the military with its tunnel-vision to stop Communism at all costs.  One of the big takeaways from this book is JFK’s ambition to become president even when he won his first House seat — it was clear that he was bored with “small time” politics and merely cared about big picture issues, particularly foreign policy.  Dallek repeats most of what people already knew about Kennedy — that he liked the ladies, had an illness he hid from the press, and came from a rich family with some skeletons in the closet.  However, what Dallek provides is a comprehensive look at how dysfunctional an executive branch can be, particularly one with a young president at the helm who surrounds himself with the smartest of men (those that accepted the positions) and is forced to keep on less-than-desirable men for political reasons.  The interplay between the groups, the president, and even the brothers Kennedy is contentious, but it also becomes paralyzing.  However, it was not beneath Kennedy to use underhanded tricks or to dupe the press to get what he wanted.

“As Rusk sat in Kennedy’s living room, waiting to see the president-elect, he noticed a copy of the Washington Post sitting prominently on a coffee-table — it announced Rusk as secretary of state.  When Kennedy entered and saw the headline, he ‘blew his top,’ asking Rusk if he was the source of the leak.  Told no, Kennedy called Post publisher Philip Graham to chide him for printing the story.  After Graham explained that Kennedy was the one who had told him, Kennedy said, ‘But that was off the record.’  Hardly, since it was exactly what Kennedy wanted; Kennedy had no interest in giving Rusk a choice of accepting;”  (page 99 ARC)

Dallek carefully demonstrates his statements through dialogue from the men in the room with Kennedy when foreign policy issues were discussed, citing their own books, statements, diaries, and/or notes — not to mention the declassified government documents.  There are even quotes from Jackie Kennedy about private conversations she had with her husband or from conversations she overheard.  What’s telling about the situation when Kennedy was president is that he had the book knowledge from FDR and other presidents to guide him in building the best team, but that circumstances outside his control and his inability to ignore advice and go with his gut instinct often landed his administration in political hot water, like after the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.  The defeat left a bad taste in the administration’s mouth, which may have fueled the military’s fire to win anywhere at any cost against Communism — hence the entry into the Vietnam War.

For those interested in Kennedy the man, this is not the book; but for those interested in how an idealist with big aspirations and big ideas about solving foreign policy issues gets caught up in the political machine and essentially worn down, this is the book for you.  Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek is not a linear tale, but does touch upon the forces at work against the Kennedy Administration and how the administration pulled the wool over its own eyes when it came to foreign policy issues.  In many ways, the book chronicles a young president’s dream of greatness that fell short of its goals, not because of an assassination, but because of inexperience and failing to ask the right questions.

About the Author:

Robert Dallek is an American historian specializing in American presidents. He is a recently retired Professor of History at Boston University and has previously taught at Columbia University, UCLA, and Oxford.

These are my 68th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon

Today is the beginning of Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-Thon.  Although I have other plans today, I will be reading off and on with everyone and cheering people on when I can.


1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

USA, Washington, D.C.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Finishing up Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek, and if I finish it I will consider it a successful read-a-thon.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Grapes…and coffee…I love Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I loved my Keeshond like he was a child, but with a little toddler running around, I realize caring for a dog was much easier.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?

I like to keep my participation laid back; that’s what I’ve learned over the years.  To just have fun!

Blackout Poem Challenge:

THE Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, known for his love poems and leftist ideals, died 40 years ago this September. One would hope he’d be at rest by now. But on Monday, as classical musicians played a Neruda work set to music by Vicente Bianchi, his remains were exhumed to determine whether he died from poison — instead of prostate cancer, the conventional account.

In recent years, other icons of the Hispanic world have suffered the same fate. In 2011, Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected president-elect who was deposed by a military junta in 1973, was disinterred to verify that he’d fatally shot himself. (The finding — yes — is still disputed.) The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez ordered in 2010 that the tomb of his idol, Simón Bolívar, be opened to test his theory that the liberator died of poisoning, not tuberculosis. (The theory remains unproved.)

And in 2008, a Spanish judge authorized the unearthing of a mass grave in the southern town of Alfácar to see whether Federico García Lorca, the poet and dramatist who was assassinated by Fascists in 1936, at the outset of the Civil War, was buried there. (The results were inconclusive.)

There is something gothic, but also cathartic, about summoning artists like Neruda, and his close friend García Lorca, back into the realm of the living, making us wonder if death is really the end. A Chilean judge’s decision, in February, to allow an investigation into Neruda’s death, which led to this week’s exhumation, looks like an act of expiation.

Neruda used his pen to denote, to denounce, to decry. He was 69 when the junta took power. By then he had been an embassy attaché, a senator and an ambassador. In 1969, he initially ran for president as a Communist, but later backed Allende’s candidacy. However, passion for political change was only one side of his persona. The other was that of a bon vivant. Many people enjoy life plentifully, but few have been so eloquent about it. The Dionysian sensuality of Neruda’s odes is contagious, joyful and erotic. And also destructive: Neruda’s marriage to Matilde Urrutia, his third wife and the inspiration for “The Captain’s Verses” and “One Hundred Love Sonnets,” unraveled after she learned he was having an affair with her niece.

Neruda died in a clinic in Santiago on Sept. 23, 1973 — 12 days after the American-backed coup that overthrew Allende and brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power. Many Chileans have long been skeptical of the official cause of death. In 2011, Neruda’s former driver said the poet told him, on the eve of his death, that he’d been given a harmful injection by a doctor. Conspiracy theorists note that Neruda died in the same hospital where Eduardo Frei Montalva, a politician who had supported the junta before switching sides, died in 1982. A judge ruled in 2009 that Frei had been poisoned.

Could Neruda have suffered a similar fate? Allende had died on Sept. 11, 1973, and another opponent of the junta, the folk singer Víctor Jara, was assassinated on Sept. 16. Finishing off Neruda could have been the junta’s coup de grâce.

Exhuming icons is one way to deal with guilt. Elsewhere in Latin America, the past’s phantoms are resurfacing: in Guatemala, where the former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is on trial for genocide; in Argentina, whose cities are dotted with memorials to those who were “disappeared” during the “dirty war”; and in Mexico, where a once-pliant media have challenged the former president Felipe Calderón’s handling of the war against drug cartels.

But Neruda holds a special place in this grim look backward. Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian writer and a fellow Nobel laureate, has called him “the most important poet of the 20th century — in any language.”

Neruda left thousands of poems, a handful of which are of such inspired beauty as to justify the very existence of the Spanish language. Adolescents routinely give his “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” to their sweethearts. His ideological verses have been read aloud, often from memory, in one revolution after another, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the embers of the Arab Spring. Some of Neruda’s poems — “I Ask for Silence,” “Walking Around,” “Ode to the Artichoke” — have been rendered into English repeatedly, each version another effort to make him current and vital to a new generation.

What we’ve read so far:

32 pages

32 pages

26 pages

Which hour was most daunting for you?

The 15th hour was brutal for me, that’s when I decided to take a nap. A big mistake because I slept through the rest of readathon.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I think kids books with games in them are so fun and peek-a-boo flaps. They are quick reads for when there are distracting little children around or you just need a quick read.

How many books did you read?

We only read 3 whole books, but I did read about 50 more pages of Camelot’s Court.

What were the names of the books you read?

See above the images.

Which book did you enjoy most?

The little one and I really like the Halloween Forest.

Which did you enjoy least?

None really.

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I think if I have as little time as I did this time, I’ll be a cheerleader instead.

I hope everyone had a great read-a-thon!

Mailbox Monday #230

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  August’s host is Bermudaonion The Reading Fever.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I bought/received:

1.  Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer, which I purchased.

The “World” in Robert Lee Brewer’s Solving the World’s Problems is a slippery world … where chaos always hovers near, where we are (and should be) “splashing around in dark puddles.” And one feels a bit dizzy reading these poems because (while always clear, always full of meaning) they come at reality slantwise so that nothing is quite the same and the reader comes away with a new way of looking at the ordinary objects and events of life. The poems are brim-full of surprises and delights, twists in the language, double-meanings of words, leaps of thought and imagination, interesting line-breaks. There are love and relationship poems, dream poems, poems of life in the modern world. And always the sense (as he writes) of “pulling the world closer to me/leaves falling to the ground/ birds flying south.” I read these once, twice with great enjoyment. I will go back to them often. -Patricia Fargnoli, former Poet Laureate of New Hampshire and author of Then, Something

2.  Pat the Beastie by Henrik Drescher, which I purchased for my daughter’s potty prize box for her good deeds.

A warning: “You should never monkey around with a Beastie!” Once upon a time a little boy and girl named Paul and Judy had a pet called Beastie. Unfortunately, Paul and Judy weren’t very nice to Beastie. In fact—they were downright naughty. They pulled Beastie’s fur and jiggled Beastie’s eyes. They tickled his feet and plucked his boogers. “Always be kind to your pets!” they were reminded again and again—but Paul and Judy never listened.

3.  Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek, which came from Harper.

Fifty years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, presidential historian Robert Dallek, whom The New York Times calls “Kennedy’s leading biographer,” delivers a riveting new portrait of this president and his inner circle of advisors—their rivalries, personality clashes, and political battles. In Camelot’s Court, Dallek analyzes the brain trust whose contributions to the successes and failures of Kennedy’s administration—including the Bay of Pigs, civil rights, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam—were indelible.

Kennedy purposefully put together a dynamic team of advisors noted for their brilliance and acumen, including Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, and trusted aides Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger. Yet the very traits these men shared also created sharp divisions. Far from being unified, this was an uneasy band of rivals whose ambitions and clashing beliefs ignited fiery internal debates.

What did you receive?