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A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the…

A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965)

by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

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Arthur M. Schlessinger, Jr.'s book on the Kennedy Presidency is of interest to the historian of foreign policy and diplomacy if for no other reason than the fact that he was close enough to the internal workings of the American presidency that he could write a book of personal reminiscences which would qualify as a history. As one of a general outpouring of reminiscences in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination it has surprisingly retained its utility.1 Looking back in retrospect nearly 30 years after its publication, The Thousand Days still affords a valuable insider's account. Obviously written for the general educated public, the book has the additional advantage of historical writing has lost in the last several decades.

The U.S.-Soviet Cold War dominates much of Schlessinger's account. Schlessinger shared (as well as shaped) the American Cold War consensus ideology during the years covered in this account. Within the context of this consensus he characterizes Kennedy as a consummate statesman, able to find the correct balance between diplomacy and the recourse to military force and - perhaps most importantly - able to learn from his mistakes. This "memoir" of the Kennedy Presidency, full of first hand accounts of diplomacy at the highest levels of government, also represents an attempt to draw "lessons" from American history. This book bears testimony to Schlessinger's important assumption about the Cold War, which - simply put - is that the Munich analogy applies to U.S.-Soviet relations.

Though it would be unfair to characterize the book as Kennedy-worship pure and simple, there is a great deal to James MacGregor Burns' claim that Kennedy was astute enough to choose his own biographer. The Bay of Pigs, for instance, was Kennedy's "ordeal by fire" in which he learned the lessons vlhich allowed him to emerge successful from the Cuban missile crisis. Even from the jaws of defeat, Schlessinger allows his "hero" to snatch victory (and perhaps vindicate his own performance as author of the famous white paper on Cuba?). the prototypical statesman is the account of the Berlin Crisis of 1961. During the crisis Kennedy sought the advice of subordinates, yet maintained control over policy formulation at all times (in contrast to Eisenhower, who Schlessinger implies gave a free reign to John Foster Dulles). As tensions over Berlin mounted in the aftermath of the Kennedy-Khrushchev meeting in Vienna, Dean Acheson recommended sending an Army division along the corridor to West Berlin to demonstrate American resolve. Schlessinger and Kissinger stressed the need for more extensive attempts at diplomacy. Kennedy took a middle course, calling up the reserves but threatening no military action when the East Germans erected the wall. JFK also eschcalated hastily beginning negotiations with the Soviets. In the section entitled "Coda," with which Schlessinger concludes the chapter "Trial in Berlin," Schlessinger stresses the continuing process of education which Kennedy underwent in his attempt to combine high ideals with a "realistic" assessment of geopolitics.

"The Berlin crisis of 1961 represented a further step beyond Laos in the education of the President in the controlled employment of force in the use of peace. One never knows, of course, what would have happened if Kennedy had ordered full mobilization, or if he had rushed straight into negotiation; but either extreme might well have invited Soviet miscalculation and ended in war. Instead he applied power and diplomacy in a combination and sequence which enabled him to guard the vital interests of the west and hold off the holocaust." (p. 404)

According to Schlessinger, Kennedy struck just the right balance in his relationship with the Soviets over Berlin. ( )
  mdobe | Jan 14, 2018 |
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., having close access to John F. Kennedy, was able to give us an in-depth look into the workings of the Kennedy administration. If you want to know about the the day to day dealings of a president, and of JFK in particular, this is a good book to read. It is baffling just to think of how many offices a president has to fill when he becomes a president, and how he goes about it. Schlesinger gives us some insight into the Cuban missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy's dealings with foreign dignitaries, and his stance on civil liberties. It is wonderful to have a book like this available in order to understand some of the many challenges which face a president. ( )
1 vote gcamp | Nov 4, 2010 |
875 A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (read 22 Oct 1966) (Pulitzer Biography prize for 1966) (National Book Award biography prize for 1966) In the summer of 1966 I started this book but when I got to page 750 it was due and could not be renewed. I finished reading it at 5:30 AM on Oct 22, 1966. The ending overwhelmed me and I set out part of it in my journal. The dramatic evocation of remembered horror: "The car turned off Main street, the President happy and waving. Jacqueline erect and proud by his side, and Mrs. Connally saying: 'You certainly can't say that the people of Dallas haven't given you a nice welcome,' and the automobile turning on to Elm Street and down the slope past the Texas Book Depository, and the shots, faint and frightening, suddenly distinct over the roar of the motorcade, and the quizzical look on the President's face as he pitched over, and Jacqueline crying, 'Oh, no,no...Oh, my God, they have shot my husband,' and the horror, the vacancy." And the quote from Stephen Spender:
"I think continually of those who were truly great...
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor." ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 15, 2010 |
This is an amazing book by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Now, given his close relationship to President Kennedy it is clear that there will be some bias. But Schlesinger deals with that right away by acknowledging that in the beginning of his book. Also, even though there is somewhat of a bias which makes Schlesinger not hit as hard as he could on some of Kennedy's white house days, this is still a great book that is a great addition to the historiography on President Kennedy.

It is a very long book so it does get dry from time to time but Schlesinger, Jr. gives so much detail the reader really feels like they lived during that time period or were in the room with Kennedy.

This book will definitely take you a long time to read it but it is so worth it. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  Angelic55blonde | Apr 6, 2008 |
Schlesinger was Special Assistant in the Kennedy Administration -- really a personal friend "with portfolio" -- for example he was an official part of the election campaign, and after Kennedy took office, was assigned to prepare Kennedy's trip to South America. He was part of the Kennedy Cabinet, one of the most intelligent and educated Cabinets before or since.
  keylawk | Jan 7, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618219277, Paperback)

As special assistant to the president, Arthur Schlesinger witnessed firsthand the politics and personalities that influenced the now legendary Kennedy administration. Schlesinger’s close relationship with JFK, as a politician and as a friend, has resulted in this authoritative yet intimate account in which the president “walks through the pages, from first to last, alert, alive, amused and amusing” (John Kenneth Galbraith). A THOUSAND DAYS is “at once a masterly literary achievement and a work of major historical significance” (New York Times).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:38 -0400)

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning portrait of John F. Kennedy's Presidency, by one of the most celebrated historians of our time, is now fully illustrated with hundreds of historic photographs and documents. Published in 1965, "A Thousand Days" is considered to be the seminal work on Kennedy and his administration, which lasted just past a thousand days from January 1961 top November 22nd, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The book was written in the months following Kennedy's death. Now, for the first time comes an abridged and fully illustrated edition of this important historical work. The 300 colour and black-and-white photographs add an entirely new dimension to the text. It is the first illustrated edition of a classic book, which has already sold over one million copies, is edited and abridged by the original author, and with his new foreword. Schlesinger was a special assistant to the President and witnessed first hand events and personalities of the Kennedy era.… (more)

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