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JFK’s Last Hundred Days

JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President (Penguin, 2013)
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“Certainly demonstrates that three often painful years in office had taught Kennedy valuable lessons… Clarke delivers a thoroughly delightful portrait.”
—Kirkus (starred)

JFK’s Last Hundred Days is listed in Amazon’s best books of July 2013 and iTunes’ best books of August 2013

More reviews below


A revelatory, minute-by-minute account of JFK’s last hundred days that asks what might have been

Fifty years after his death, President John F. Kennedy’s legend endures. Noted author and historian Thurston Clarke argues that the heart of that legend is what might have been.

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JFK’s Last Hundred Days reexamines the last months of the president’s life to show a man in the midst of great change, finally on the cusp of making good on his extraordinary promise.

Kennedy’s last hundred days began just after the death of two-day-old Patrick Kennedy, and during this time, the president made strides in the Cold War, civil rights, Vietnam, and his personal life. While Jackie was recuperating, the premature infant and his father were flown to Boston for Patrick’s treatment. Kennedy was holding his son’s hand when Patrick died on August 9, 1963. The loss of his son convinced Kennedy to work harder as a husband and father, and there is ample evidence that he suspended his notorious philandering during these last months of his life.

Also in these months Kennedy finally came to view civil rights as a moral as well as a political issue, and after the March on Washington, he appreciated the power of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., for the first time.

Though he is often depicted as a devout cold warrior, Kennedy pushed through his proudest legislative achievement in this period, the Limited Test Ban Treaty. This success, combined with his warming relations with Nikita Khrushchev in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, led to a détente that British foreign secretary Sir Alec Douglas- Home hailed as the “beginning of the end of the Cold War.”

Throughout his presidency, Kennedy challenged demands from his advisers and the Pentagon to escalate America’s involvement in Vietnam. Kennedy began a reappraisal in the last hundred days that would have led to the withdrawal of all sixteen thousand U.S. military
advisers by 1965.

JFK’s Last Hundred Days is a gripping account that weaves together Kennedy’s public and private lives, explains why the grief following his assassination has endured so long, and solves the most tantalizing Kennedy mystery of all—not who killed him but who he was when he was killed, and where he would have led us.

More Reviews of JFK’s Last Hundred Days

“Thurston Clarke has done the seemingly impossible: he has found a revealing new angle of vision on John F. Kennedy that brings the president and his times back to vivid life. This is excellent narrative history.”
—Jon Meacham, New York Times bestselling author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

“Clarke makes the drama, the excitement, and the dark side of Camelot seem like only yesterday—indeed, you feel as though you’re right there, in the Kennedy White House, at Hyannis Port, and aboard Air Force One with JFK, today.”
—Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution

“Certainly demonstrates that three often painful years in office had taught Kennedy valuable lessons… Clarke delivers a thoroughly delightful portrait… few will put it down.”
» Read the full starred review

“The three-months before President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas were frenetic times: civil rights, Vietnam, Berlin and reelection were on his mind. Thurston Clarke’s JFK’s Last Hundred Days does a marvelous job of reliving Camelot’s fragile promise. Clarke is a masterful storyteller and able researcher. This book sings. Highly recommended.”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite

“A fascinating close-up look at the final dramatic months of a young president’s life. Thurston Clarke’s portrait of Kennedy is masterful in this compelling convergence of history and biography.”
Bob Herbert, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and former Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times.

“A graceful, bittersweet chronicle of President Kennedy’s final months… Those who remember Kennedy and those too young to do so, will find this an absorbing narrative.”
—Karl Helicher, Library Journal Review
» Read the full review

“As we approach [its] 50th anniversary… there will be a slew of books on John F. Kennedy’s death, but the early prize goes to historian Thurston Clarke’s meticulous reconstruction of JFK’s Last Hundred Days. Here we see a president in action, a man maturing and developing as a thinker and executive, and so we are haunted all over again by what might have come next.”
—Jimmy So and Lucas Whittman, “Brainy Beach Reads,” The Daily Beast/Newsweek

“Thurston Clarke takes a fresh look… [a] compelling portrait of one of the towering figures of 20th-century America.”
The Christian Science Monitor, 10 best books of July

“Clarke has written a real page-turner… deftly weaving together the private, personal, and intimate with the public, the political, and the-then-secret public and political.”
—Harvey J. Kaye, author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, in The Daily Beast
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“…There will be few, if any, contributions more entertaining and informative than Thurston Clarke’s comprehensive chronological telling of his last 100 days in office… Now, as Clarke underlines so well, we can still only wonder what might have been.”
—Jurek Martin, Financial Times
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“Mr Clarke is a good storyteller, and his account—one of many JFK books timed for the 50th anniversary of the assassination—offers an enjoyable snapshot of the day-to-day workings of the presidency.”
The Economist
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“…A superb piece of writing—richly detailed and, considering that the end is all too well known, surprisingly enthralling.”
—Frank Gannon, Wall Street Journal
» Read the full review

“A wonderful new book…”
—Marc Ambinder, The Week

“A gracefully written, fresh look at the oft-told story… Clarke throws light on personal details to bring his subject vibrantly alive.”
—Don Graham, The Dallas Morning News

“Thurston Clarke has written a superb book… We see… a composite portrait of a ‘casually gracious’ man who, despite his flaws, was principally characterised by ‘nobility and sacrifice.’”
—Roger Lewis, The Daily Mail (U.K.)
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“All of the upcoming retrospectives will be hard-pressed to match the haunting work of Thurston Clarke…  Agree with him or not, Clarke has delivered a compelling history in an interesting manner… That he has done so while writing about the nation’s most glamorized presidency borders on the miraculous.”
—Erik Spanberg, The Christian Science Monitor
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Ask Not

Ask not penguin
Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America (Penguin, 2012)
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“[Ask Not] has the happy effect of bringing quite fully to life that brief, hopeful hour in our nation’s history…”
Washington Post


A narrative of Kennedy’s quest to create a speech that would distill American dreams and empower a new generation, Ask Not is a beautifully detailed account of the inauguration and the weeks preceding it.

More reviews and excerpt below
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During a time when America was divided, and its citizens torn by fears of war, John F. Kennedy took office and sought to do more than just reassure the American people. His speech marked the start of a brief, optimistic era.

Thurston Clarke’s portrait of JFK is balanced, revealing the president at his most dazzlingly charismatic and cunningly pragmatic.

More Reviews of Ask Not

“Insightful and fascinating… [Kennedy] comes off as a skilled, eloquent, and inspired craftsman.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Earnestly exuberant… Ask Not is a short book, but there are many berries on the bush…Clarke is an intrepid researcher.”
—Louis Menand in The New Yorker

“Part of the fun of this book is that Clarke writes good gossip…This is an entertaining and instructive book.”
The Press-Republican (Plattsburgh)

Ask Not is an elegant and literate celebration of one of the past century’s pinnacles of literacy—and a valuable addition to the Kennedy canon.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Thurston Clarke has taken a brief, beautiful speech and re-created an extraordinary moment in time. He understands the power of words, the way they can animate an age and move the world.”
Evan Thomas, coauthor of The Wise Men, author of John Paul Jones

“This fine book is part textual criticism, part archival detective work, but most important, a compelling and fascinating story… Clarke has reminded us once again that there was substance behind the charisma, and much to admire about John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”
The Herald-Sun (Durham)

“Insightful and engaging… In the end, Sorensen stands revealed as what he’s always claimed to be: not Kennedy’s ghostwriter, but his scribe. And Kennedy? He comes off as original and eloquent.”
The Providence Sunday Journal

“A spirited narrative…fine social history.”
Library Journal

Ask Not stirs us again with the eloquence of Kennedy’s oratory, and deepens our understanding of its place in history.”
—Sally Bedell Smith, author of Grace and Power

“JFK’s inaugural has gotten the book it deserves from an author who is himself a master of words. Anyone who wants to understand why this president changed all our our lives need only open these pages to see him at his finest during his finest, most captivating, and memorable moments.”
—Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution, author of The Russia Hand


On a low curving wall in Arlington National Cemetery seven sentences from the inaugural address of John F. Kennedy are chiseled into granite tablets below the slain president’s grave. The granite, known as Deer Island after the place in Maine where it was quarried, has a pinkish tinge that becomes brighter when worn. It also covers the pavement in front of the wall where the feet of 150 million visitors have turned it pinker every year. The tablets, too, are changing color, but more slowly, as mourners slide their fingers across the three-inch letters, the closest they can come to touching the man who is buried here.

Jackie and Mamie rode from the White House to the Capitol in a Cadillac limousine together with Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire. It was a moment neither woman could have anticipated with much pleasure, but here they were: Mamie in a gaudy “tomato red” suit, matching hat, and bulky mink, Jackie in Cassini’s fawn coat trimmed with a whisper of sable; Mamie, who had shared a bed with her husband during forty-five years of marriage, and Jackie, who did not plan on sharing the same bedroom with her husband on their first night in the White House; Mamie, who had spent most of her White House evenings sitting next to her husband as they ate their supper off trays perched in front of his-and-hers televisions, and Jackie, who would fill her husband’s evenings with intimate dinner parties and concerts; Mamie, the daughter of an Iowa meatpacker who had never attended college and loved canasta and mahjong, and Jackie, the daughter of a philandering, alcoholic New York stockbroker, who had attended Vassar and the Sorbonne and been named Debutante of the Year. Here they were, then, two women riding together to the Capitol who, because neither suspected the infidelities the other had endured in her marriage, believed they had nothing in common.

As Jackie descended the Capitol steps, the crowd rose to its feet, cheering and applauding. Cassini sensed victory. Her fawn coat, with its understated sable collar, matching pillbox hat, and small sable muff, communicated youth, simplicity, and elegance. She was the gorgeous petal in a dowdy bouquet of fur. He had promised she would stand out but was still astonished when it happened exactly that way. He sensed he was witnessing a turning point in fashion history—the celebretization of fashion, and the iconization of Jackie Kennedy—and once her husband began speaking, he realized that her outfit perfectly complemented his spare and elegant prose.

He had not just dictated, but had lived the words. They told his story, ‘born in this century,’ ‘tempered by war,’ and ‘disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.’ As he delivered them, he became more emphatic and passionate, turning his right hand into a fist and pumping it up and down as he said, ‘The torch has been passed.’ It was here that his nervous energy, heightened by the delays and prayers, began surfacing in his delivery, and he began forging an emotional bond with the audience. Those appropriating the words and themes of Kennedy’s address have failed to appreciate that the text was only part of the magic. There was also an extraordinary convergence of people, events, and history. There was the snowstorm, Jackie’s wardrobe, Frost’s recitation, and an audience already longing for his words. There was a man who left nothing to chance—not his tan, his haircut, or teeth, not even the cut of his suit, or the seating of dignitaries on his platform—and who spoke with the urgency of someone who has narrowly escaped death and cared passionately about the judgment of history. There was a speech he had not only composed but lived; one that was a distillation of the spiritual and philosophical principles forming his character and guiding his life, and that he delivered with a passion that reached deeply buried hearts and elicited from the American people, as Gore Vidal had predicted, ‘a remarkable emotional response.’