President John F. Kennedy shakes hands during a trip to campaign for local Democrats and inspect power projects in August 1962. (Joseph Scherschel, Time-Life)

When is enough enough?

When will the bookshelves finally buckle and break under the weight of books about John Fitzgerald Kennedy, this country's 35th president?

There have been, by various estimates, more than 40,000 books written about him and published since his death in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

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And now, on the eve of that event's 50th anniversary, here come more, dozens of them of every imaginable topic, angle, theory and sentiment, varying in quality from deadly academic to colorfully schlocky.


The simplest answer is that people buy these books, the appetite for things JFK seemingly insatiable, and publishers always eager to keep feeding it.

But why is that?

Theories abound: the so-called unanswered questions that surround his death, the shimmering Camelot legacy; the Kennedy clan's way of finding trouble. Take your pick.

In large part JFK remains with us because his assassination and its aftermath — Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald, little John John saluting his father's coffin — came at us with the visceral immediacy of television and remain locked somehow in our collective memory, our national DNA.

In much the same way that Kennedy helped change the face of politics — especially in the 1960 presidential debates from Studio One at Chicago's WBBM-TV — so did his death (and life) alter the world in bigger ways.

Also, for all of their human failings and frailties, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Camelot's king and queen, were otherworldly in their beauty and style, and they remain so in their continuing capacity to captivate and to haunt. (See also James Dean and Marilyn Monroe).

The ripple effect is ongoing, with new books to suit any taste. Over the last couple of weeks, I have read some and sampled many others. Here are snapshots and thoughts from that journey.

That Oswald killed Kennedy is impossible to dispute. But Ruby's bullet unintentionally started the series of questions — was Oswald a lone gunman or, as he mysteriously claimed after his capture, "a patsy" — that continue to fuel the Kennedy conspiracy industry. Titles in that category include:

→"The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ" by Roger Stone with Mike Colapietro

→"CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys: How and Why U.S. Agents Conspired to Assassinate JFK and RFK" by Patrick Nolan, with a foreword by Henry C. Lee

→"They Killed Our President: 63 Reasons to Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK" by that eminent historian Jesse Ventura, with contributors Dick Russell and David Wayne

As put off as I quickly was by those books, I found others much more worthwhile. Here are some of those:

"Rose Kennedy's Family Album: From the Fitzgerald Kennedy Private Collection: 1878-1946," foreword by Caroline Kennedy, Grand Central, 352 pages, $45

I was charmed by this book, a gathering of spectacular photos, with a foreword by Caroline Kennedy ("To those of us who knew her, she sparkled — and the world she created was one we felt fortunate to inhabit"), finely crafted essays by Michael Quinlin and a great deal of Rose's own writings, such as "God made the world and made us to live in it for a while."