The best books on the John F. Kennedy assassination

Who am I?

In 1978, I happened to be the only person present in the cramped office of my college newspaper in Texas, when Kennedy assassination eyewitness Bill Newman entered. It was during the midst of the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations’ investigation into the matter. Newman was standing no more than 15 feet from Kennedy when he was shot. His account intrigued me, sending me on a search that has yet to end. I witnessed Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, D.C., as a boy, grew up in Dallas, and even shared the same birthday with him. Several articles I wrote on the assassination and ensuing research have won awards, including a Best in Show Feature Writing Award from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. I have written books on other topics, but this is the one that most consumed me.

I wrote...

Death of the Rising Sun: A Search for Truth in the JFK Assassination

By Kevin James Shay,

Book cover of Death of the Rising Sun: A Search for Truth in the JFK Assassination

What is my book about?

Historians place the assassination of John F. Kennedy among the biggest watershed events of the 20th century. Since that 1963 tragedy, more than 2,000 books have covered various aspects of the assassination and its aftermath. Some have even claimed to solve the case. Veteran journalist Kevin James Shay focuses on presenting what occurred between Kennedy's 1960 presidential triumph and his assassination in an objective manner. The narrative, infused with behind-the-scenes details that have been brought to light in recent years, provides a compelling account that is particularly geared towards the average reader.

The book unearths some fresh details, such as about other attempts on Kennedy's life and the involvement of a Ku Klux Klan leader who opposed racial violence to the point that he became a government informant and likely helped prolong Kennedy’s life.

The books I picked & why

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JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

By James W. Douglass,

Book cover of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

Why this book?

Written in a deeply personal, even spiritual manner that incorporates a vast amount of research, this book moved Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to visit the assassination site in Dallas for the first time more than four decades after the tragedy. Douglass particularly investigates Lee Harvey Oswald’s involvement with American intelligence agencies and writes in a highly readable style that appeals to both average readers and researchers. He provides perspective on not just how Kennedy was killed, but why, as well as why the assassination is important to continue to research to this day.

On the Trail of the Assassins: My Investigation and Prosecution of the Murder of President Kennedy

By Jim Garrison,

Book cover of On the Trail of the Assassins: My Investigation and Prosecution of the Murder of President Kennedy

Why this book?

The late New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison pursued the only criminal case in this controversy that has tried someone for conspiracy to murder Kennedy in court. He faced death threats, prosecution, infiltration, dirty tricks, and more in the late 1960s. He details what he went through and why he mostly blamed U.S. intelligence officials and agents for what he called a “coup d’etat.” His book was a major basis for director Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK, in which Garrison played a minor role as Justice Earl Warren.

Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy

By Jim Marrs,

Book cover of Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy

Why this book?

A veteran Texas journalist who started teaching a course on the assassination at UT-Arlington in 1976, Marrs saw his comprehensive work published a year after Garrison’s book. Stone also used Marrs’ book as a prime source for his movie. Unlike Garrison, Marrs steered clear of pinning the assassination on mostly one group, covering the alleged roles of organized crime, anti-Castro Cubans, the military-industrial complex, oilmen, bankers, political opponents, and more. Some 25 major publishers turn down Marrs’ manuscript, which became a best-seller, before Carroll & Graf accepted it. The work was one of the first to tie together the various alleged conspiratorial groups.

Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

By David Talbot,

Book cover of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

Why this book?

The founder of pioneering web magazine Salon, Talbot covers fresh ground in this book, documenting how Robert Kennedy secretly searched for the truth behind his brother’s murder before he was assassinated himself in 1968. Based on some 150 interviews with Kennedy relatives and administration insiders, the book strikes a good balance between presenting facts and writing in an interesting style that brings to life the political struggles of that turbulent period. Robert Kennedy suspected not only the CIA, but organized crime and anti-Castro Cuban exiles who supposedly worked together. Talbot’s work does an excellent job of showing the links and explaining why some of the same sources might have conspired against RFK.

Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery

Why this book?

There are numerous books that seek to prove Oswald was the lone assassin, and Mailer’s is probably the most open-minded and convincing one. Rather than descend into name-calling against authors of more conspiratorial works, Mailer sticks to the topic of Oswald’s mysterious time in Russia. Based on interviews with former acquaintances and research gathered from Russia, the book uncovers fresh details about Oswald’s time there. While Mailer theorized that Oswald executed Kennedy to shake up the world and cement his place in history, he leaves the door open, if just ever so slighty, to other potential gunmen in Dallas.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the John F. Kennedy Assassination, assassins, and JFK?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the John F. Kennedy Assassination, assassins, and JFK.

The John F. Kennedy Assassination Explore 11 books about the John F. Kennedy Assassination
Assassins Explore 36 books about assassins
JFK Explore 30 books about JFK

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Last Second in Dallas, 11/22/63, and False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison's Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film JFK if you like this list.