NYT praises Bugliosi's 1,600 page book on JFK murder

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I have no idea what book wears the crown of longest nonfiction title ever published. Whoever holds the record, it is about to be challenged by Vincent Bugliosi, whose new work, “Reclaiming History,” a cellular-level re-examination of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, clocks in at 1,612 pages. That’s not a typo. One thousand six hundred and twelve pages. Plus notes. On a CD-ROM. Bugliosi, best known as the prosecutor of Charles Manson and a co-author of the best seller “Helter Skelter” three decades ago, writes that his new offering, if chopped into books of 120,000 words each, would fill 13 full volumes. Note to editor: You owe me big time.

This is an awfully easy book to mock. When a 13-volume-length study of the Kennedy assassination is published, one expects it to be the life’s work of an Arthur Schlesinger or a Robert Caro. Bugliosi’s career suggests a poor man’s Alan Dershowitz, a peripatetic lawyer who cranks out a book every few years on the tabloid topic of the moment; his interests have run to tomes on O. J. Simpson and Paula Jones. None have exactly roiled the national conversation. Worse, his research originated with an imaginary trial of Lee Harvey Oswald on British television in the halcyon days of the 1980s. Bugliosi prosecuted. Judge Wapner should’ve presided. Gerry Spence mounted the defense, lost, then vented to Arsenio Hall. Or maybe it was Pat Sajak.

Not Bugliosi. He decided to start a book. Now, 21 years in the making, it has finally arrived. How on earth does one justify such an endeavor? Surely, you must be thinking, Bugliosi cracks the case. Here, finally, is concrete proof that Kennedy was killed by the C.I.A. or the Mafia or aliens from Planet Z. But no. It turns out Bugliosi spent 21 years coming to the same conclusion Gerald Posner reached in his 1993 book “Case Closed,” the same conclusion reached by the much-maligned Warren Commission: Oswald acted alone. Let me repeat: Twenty-one years. 1,612 pages. Oswald. Alone.

So this is where one expects the reviewer to savage Bugliosi for all those wasted years and pages. Well, I can’t do it. The fact is, the darned book is pretty good. Putting aside its ridiculous length, I have to say “Reclaiming History” is in spots a delight to read. Bugliosi is refreshing because he doesn’t just pick apart the conspiracy theorists. He ridicules them, and by name, writing that “most of them are as kooky as a $3 bill.” Bugliosi calls the dean of conspiracy buffs, Mark Lane, “unprincipled” and “a fraud.” He quotes Harold Weisberg, the author of eight conspiracy-themed books, admitting that after 35 years of research, “much as it looks like Oswald was some kind of agent for somebody, I have not found a shred of evidence to support it.”

Related Links

  • Alan Brinkley: Conspiracy? (A review of David Talbott's Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, which argues that JFK was killed by a conspiracy.)



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