Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The President Has Been Shot: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson

Where were you when JFK was shot? A common question for the average American who lived during the tumultuous 1960s, but many younger generations may wonder what would compel someone to assassinate on of our most popular, yet divisive, presidents.  In James Swanson's gripping minute-by-minute account of President Kennedy's murder, the author meticulously details the actions of the President and his wife on the fateful days leading up to November 22, 1963, and he intricately weaves the stories of on-lookers, as well as Lee Harvey Oswald. In fact, The President Has Been Shot is organized into two parts: Part One serves as an introduction to JFK's early years, eventual election, his inauguration, The Cuban Missile Crisis, his connection to the Civil Rights era, and the allure of the Kennedy family. Part Two, on the other hand, is dedicated to the assassination itself; having researched the day leading up to his assassination and the surreal after-math that Jacqueline faced alongside Robert Kennedy and Vice President LBJ, Swanson spares no detail, leaving the reader with the sense of despair, confusion, and impending cynicism that this horrific tragedy caused. Part of his impetus for writing this text came from the following sentiment Swanson shared with  his audience: "We’ve lost touch with the emotional rawness of what the Kennedys and America suffered on November 22nd...Don’t forget, a woman lost her husband, two children lost their father, and America lost its president."  Swanson delivered on this promise and brought humanity and grit to this sad day.

I would highly recommend this text to high school readers (and adult readers, like me who may have never formally learned about this era in a classroom). Swanson brings each person involved in JFK's personal life, administration, & murder back to life through detail and unbridled honesty.  While theories abound about what may have actually happened to JFK, Swanson takes a clear stance that Lee Harvey Oswald is the only perpetrator, and he supports his argument with evidence. Young adult readers will appreciate the pictures, maps, and other resources referenced throughout the text. Each picture allows readers to envision the events Swanson describes, and historical references are described in a manner that is reader friendly and accessible to students. I would recommend this text be taught in an interdisciplinary unit; perhaps it could be connected with the Vietnam Era to illustrate the historical climate leading up to Vietnam.  Alternatively, an ELA teacher may consider using this text to teach a unit about unfinished legacies. Check out this article as a possible non-fiction text to reflect on this theme. Also, I think political cartoons, much like the one above, could be a great way to discuss JFK's legacy and the historical context under which he led. Click here for a variety of political cartoons that can support the development of a unit related to The President Has Been Shot.

Of course, with the recent 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, there is a myriad of sources that could be used to help students explore this texts and its themes. Click here to find other documentaries that could be paired with this text. If you are interested in learning more about Swanson's latest text about JFK, click here!


Sarah Millen said...

Hi Heather,

History has always interested me- JFK in particular. You've composed a wonderful review, and I look forward to reading Swanson's text. Thanks!

Heather Nelson said...

Thanks, Sarah! I hope you enjoy it! It was a great read. I thought my interest would wane because there is so much coverage of his assassination, but it really kept my interest and offered so much new evidence that I enjoyed it!


Karra Badakhshanian said...

Hi Heather, I really enjoyed this review! I have always been fascinated by JFK's assassination, however, I do not know much about it oddly. To me, it is almost like the 9/11 incident and how everyone remembers the exact moment when they heard about it. (I was in 3rd grade and it was right after lunch. I had a headache. See?) For the generations living in the 1960's, this is a similar incident for them. Like you stated, a women did not only lose her husband but The United States lost their president. In many movies set in this time period, JFK's death is always mentioned too such as in The Help and Mermaids. It was a horrific event for everyone and it still is today.

After reading your review, I would really consider reading this book. I may have to put it on my Summer's Reading List! I like how you explained the different parts and all of the documentation that the author has put together. It really does sound like an interesting book. I could definitely see this book being used in a History class and I like that you said it could be used in an ELA class too. It seems like it would go well with the curriculum for secondary education students and would stimulate them into reading it. One thing that I really liked about your review was that you stated that the book is reader friendly for people who do not have a lot of prior knowledge on this time period. I think this is especially important for young adult readers. Thanks for the review!

Heather Nelson said...

Thanks for your feedback, Karra! It really is a great text!

marty edwards said...

This is a fantastic review. I love history, and I've studied JFK, but come to think of it, I was well into my 20s by the time I really looked into the assassination. (I agree that it was Oswald by the way.) You bring up an interesting point, which is borne out by my experiences and observations, YAs are not really exposed to this content enough. I get the sense history courses basically stop before the modern era, of which JFK was an early but important part. I also noted the humanism you pointed out in the author. When discussing competing theories, people often tend to forget the most important feature of the event -- a man died! I'm glad to see there are authors who keep that in mind.

Fernando Arce said...

This looks like a great read-- especially if you are a history buff. When I first saw it on the reading list, I was hesitant to pick it because usually, historical literature bores me unless it is extremely well written and engaging (I like the fluffy details and interesting language rather than a list of facts). After reading you r review and saw that it was actually a good and fairly easy read, I was kinda bummed out that I jumped to conclusions. I will definitely have to put this on my reading list. I also looks like it can do well in a classroom setting, either middle or high school setting depending on its role (either as the main book of the unit or as a supplement).