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Dallas 1963 (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis is a timely book for several reasons. Firstly, we’re nearing the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas on Nov 22, 1963. Secondly, it is instructive on the lunatic, far-right political fringe that has the country by the throat these days, that what is going on is not new, just, perhaps, a bit less outwardly violent. It is peopled by those you may know about – H.L. Hunt, the richest man in the world at the time who preached a militant, Chritian conservatism that he, himself, did not practice (what a shock), Gen. Edwin Edwards who was sacked by JFK for his fascistic proselytizing to the troops and who was shot at in Dallas in the weeks before JFK was shot and who did not practice the Christian conservatism that he preached (what a shock), and Ted Dealey, publisher of the Dallas Morning News, who used his place and power to ridicule and smack anyone who didn’t share his view of the world. They did introduce me to a few new figures – Congressman Bruce Alger, who would feel right at home in today’s Congress, and Baptist Rev. W. A. Criswell, someone who it is easy to envision screaming vitriol from the cable airwaves, Frank McGhee self-styled conservative wavemaker and leader of the National Indignation Convention (sounds like something out of Monty Python) and, probably the most sympathetic figure in the book, Stanley Marcus (of Neiman-Marcus fame), who worked so hard to bring civility to his city and whose efforts were hopeless. Too bad the White House didn’t listen to him when he told them to cancel the trip to Texas.

The authors provide a stunning and shaming portrait of the South’s largest city, of the racism and bigotry and mindless meaness of the South’s power structure. They give what one assumes to be a clear and nauseating view of the hypocricy of the leaders (Dealey decrying personal attacks on his allies even while he championed his reporters’ efforts to dig up dirt on the Left) who trumpeted the fundamental ideals of America yet did all they could to keep all men from being treated equally, and, while they feared the monster of communism and the totalitarian threat to freedom, they were willing to do whatever they could to undermine the duly elected president. It is a broad and deep damnation of those people and their actions and practices and has many parallels for us here, in these days, too.

This is not a history of mainline conservatives – this is a history of fanatics, of fascists. You know the type – the sort who claim they need to save the country from itself, who scream that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is evil, and who are willing to destroy the country to save it.

Where they go off the beam is sticking to the Warren Commission solution to the assassination. Here’s one tiny bit that had me ready to put the books down:

On April 13, 1963, someone took a shot at Gen. Edwards. It has never been proven who fired the shot though some say Oswald took credit. The author’s detail that Edwards was sitting in profile at a table, unmoving, and in clear view at a distance of 120 feet. The shooter’s bullet hit one of the dividers in the window, splintered, spraying Edwards with bullet fragments and then smashed into a wall. This strikes me as an assassination attempt by shakey shooter and one with very soft ammo.

Yet, on Nov 22, months later, Oswald is credited with getting off three shots at a moving target through leafy trees at a much greater distance, and one of the bullets makes multiple wounds in two men and is then found nearly intact on a hospital gurney? Their own narration doesn’t hang together. Anyone capable of doing that could not have missed Walker. They also note that Oswald’s rifle was “a reliable, accurate weapon”. I have read extensively on the assassination and have never heard this Mannlicher-Carcano refered to as anything but a dreadful weapon – ‘junk’ is how it has usually been discribed.

In their Authors’ Note, they write “Dallas 1963 is not meant to address the many conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of President Kennedy. Our aim is to introduce and then connect the outsize characters and the singular climate in a city that many blamed for killing a president.”

For their portait of Dallas and its place in its time, Dallas 1963 is very much worthwhile. It sets the stage for the assassination very clearly, heartbreakingly so, and but the book would have been stronger, overall, if they had simply left Oswald and Ruby out of their story altogether.

— JB


Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Research NonfictionNamed one of the Top 3 JFK Books by Parade Magazine.
Named 1 of The 5 Essential Kennedy assassination books ever written by The Daily Beast.
Named one of the Top Nonfiction Books of 2013 by Kirkus Reviews.
In the months and weeks before the fateful November 22nd, 1963, Dallas was brewing with political passions, a city crammed with larger-than-life characters dead-set against the Kennedy presidency. These included rabid warriors like defrocked military general Edwin A. Walker; the world's richest oil baron, H. L. Hunt; the leader of the largest Baptist congregation in the world, W.A. Criswell; and the media mogul Ted Dealey, who raucously confronted JFK and whose family name adorns the plaza where the president was murdered. On the same stage was a compelling cast of marauding gangsters, swashbuckling politicos, unsung civil rights heroes, and a stylish millionaire anxious to save his doomed city.
Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis ingeniously explore the swirling forces that led many people to warn President Kennedy to avoid Dallas on his fateful trip to Texas. Breathtakingly paced, DALLAS 1963 presents a clear, cinematic, and revelatory look at the shocking tragedy that transformed America. Countless authors have attempted to explain the assassination, but no one has ever bothered to explain Dallas-until now.
With spellbinding storytelling, Minutaglio and Davis lead us through intimate glimpses of the Kennedy family and the machinations of the Kennedy White House, to the obsessed men in Dallas who concocted the climate of hatred that led many to blame the city for the president's death. Here at long last is an accurate understanding of what happened in the weeks and months leading to John F. Kennedy's assassination. DALLAS 1963 is not only a fresh look at a momentous national tragedy but a sobering reminder of how radical, polarizing ideologies can poison a city-and a nation.

About the Author

Bill Minutaglio has been published in the "New York Times," "Esquire," "Newsweek," "Texas Monthly," and the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists." A professor at the University of Texas at Austin, he worked at the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio Express-News. He has written acclaimed books about George W. Bush, Molly Ivins, Alberto Gonzales, and America's greatest industrial disaster. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Steven L. Davis is the author of two highly praised books on Texas, and his work has appeared in several magazines and journals. Davis is a curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos, which holds the literary papers of Cormac McCarthy and many other writers. He lives in New Braunfels, Texas.

Praise For…

"Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis's DALLAS 1963 is a brilliantly written, haunting eulogy to John F. Kennedy. By exposing the hatred aimed at our 35th president, the authors demonstrates that America--not just Lee Harvey Oswald--was ultimately responsible for his death. Every page is an eye opener. Highly recommended!"—Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and author of Cronkite

"All the great personalities of Dallas during the assassination come alive in this superb rendering of a city on a roller coaster into disaster. History has been waiting fifty years for this book."—Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower and Going Clear

"Minutaglio and Davis capture in fascinating detail the creepiness that shamed Dallas in 1963."—Gary Cartwright, author and contributing editor at Texas Monthly

"In this harrowing, masterfully-paced depiction of a disaster waiting to happen, Minutaglio and Davis examine a prominent American city in its now-infamous moment of temporary insanity. Because those days of partisan derangement look all too familiar today, DALLAS 1963 isn't just a gripping narrative-it's also a somber cautionary tale."—Robert Draper, contributor, New York Times Magazine and author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives

"The authors skillfully marry a narrative of the lead-up to the fateful day with portrayals of the Dixiecrats, homophobes, John Birchers, hate-radio spielers, and the 'superpatriots' who were symptomatic of the paranoid tendency in American politics."—Harold Evans, author of The American Century

"After fifty years, it's a challenge to fashion a new lens with which to view the tragic events of November 22, 1963--yet Texans [Minutaglio and Davis] pull it off brilliantly."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Chilling... The authors make a compelling, tacit parallel to today's running threats by extremist groups."—Kirkus

"A thoughtful look at the political and social environment that existed in Dallas at the time of the president's election... a climate, the authors persuasively argue, of unprecedented turmoil and hatred."—Booklist

Product Details
ISBN: 9781455522095
ISBN-10: 1455522090
Publisher: Twelve
Publication Date: October 8th, 2013
Pages: 371
Language: English