MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In the 50 years since the assassination of President Kennedy, there's been an insatiable appetite for books about the young, charismatic president and his tragic death. Well, during this anniversary year, the market has been flooded with Kennedy books. Everything from glossy photograph collections to serious biographies and histories to a new round of books devoted to conspiracy theories. NPR's Lynn Neary surveys the crowded field.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: There were already thousands of books about Kennedy before this 50th anniversary year. But Tony Lyons of Skyhorse Publishing believes there's always room for more. His company is releasing 25 Kennedy books this fall, eight new ones and 17 reprints.
TONY LYONS: I think that this is the biggest story probably in U.S. history.
NEARY: Lyons firmly believes that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone and most of the books he's publishing point the finger at an assortment of conspiracies: the CIA, LBJ, the mafia, even Kennedy's own father, Joseph Kennedy, is blamed for the assassination. One book Lyons expects will sell well is a primer on conspiracy theories by Jesse Ventura.
LYONS: I think many of these books are a piece of the puzzle and that is a very complicated puzzle, and that's why it's such a fascinating story. So, you know, each issue is covered by a separate book. And, you know, some of them have similar points of view, but I think people ought to feel that this is a story they should really want to get to the bottom of in their own mind. And that they should want to read a dozen or two dozen books on it.
NEARY: But freelance writer Lenny Picker says many people who read a book about the Kennedy assassination have already made up their mind about it.
LENNY PICKER: People have a predisposition one way or another, which means that people are unlikely to pick up a book if they know from the outset that it is a vigorous defense of the Warren Commission or it's something that in its title, for example, you know, says, you know, LBJ did it.
NEARY: Picker read more than 25 of the new Kennedy books coming out this year. He wrote about them for Publishers Weekly. He cites three that he thinks may have a lasting impact. One is "Dallas 1963," which describes the dangerous anti-Kennedy atmosphere in Dallas at the time of the assassination. The other two are Philip Shenon's "A Cruel and Shocking Act" and Anthony Summers' "Not In Your Lifetime," an updated version of his earlier book. Both focus on weaknesses and omissions in the investigation by the Warren Commission. Picker says if you only read one, he'd recommend Summers' book.
PICKER: Without coming into it with a preconception, he looks at all the points. So he is not taking an extreme position and I think it would be very difficult for someone reading this with an open mind to say - come away from it and not think he raised some very troubling issues and questions that we still don't have the answers for.
NEARY: For those who want to go directly to the source, Life Books has printed all 486 frames of the famous Zapruder film of the assassination, for the first time, in its anniversary collection "The Day Kennedy Died." Fifty years ago, Life magazine did not print the frame which showed the fatal shot and managing editor Robert Sullivan says that spawned numerous conspiracy theories.
ROBERT SULLIVAN: We print all of the 400-plus images now, from the 26-second film, in sequence, not least because it's the authoritative film. And it won't put to rest anything, but if you do want to see what happened, this is it.
NEARY: The Life book also includes iconic photos of the Kennedys. Sullivan says this book is really focused on the assassination and its aftermath but they still wanted to show some of the images that Life made famous over the years, starting when John Kennedy and his siblings were still kids living with their parents in Britain.
SULLIVAN: We had the prelude chapter, if you will, because, really, they were famous back when Joe was the ambassador to Britain and the Kennedys were rock stars over there, the kids, and they looked terrific. And it was right out of Gatsby. So we had all that stuff but we had to temper it, but we thought that it helped people to understand who and what Jack was.
NEARY: Books that explore Kennedy's life and legacy make up another big segment of anniversary publications.
THURSTON CLARKE: You can look in the index of my book and Oswald does not appear.
NEARY: In "JFK's Last Hundred Days," Thurston Clarke presents an optimistic view of Kennedy as a man and a leader who was changing in the days before his death and who was, perhaps, poised for greatness. He says Kennedy was a secretive man who compartmentalized his life. Clarke wanted look into all those compartments.
CLARKE: And look at him through every prism and try to integrate the public Kennedy, the private Kennedy, the political Kennedy, the president, into one portrait that would solve what I consider the great mystery of Kennedy, which is not who shot him but who he was when he was shot and where he intended to lead us.
NEARY: Of course, no one really can answer that question. So the myth and mystery of Kennedy will remain with us, inspiring, no doubt, an endless number of books about a slain leader who continues to fascinate. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.