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Max Holland

The White House Conversations of Lyndon B. Johnson Regarding the Assassination, the Warren Commission and the Aftermath

A-KennedyAssassinationTapesFollowing John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson faced a mountain of political challenges. Robert Kennedy lurked in the wings, openly doubting Johnson’s capacity to lead. J. Edgar Hoover, the pater familias of so many conspiracy theories, fed Johnson reams of misinformation that tied Oswald to the communist party. And, most importantly, the investigation into his predecessor’s death threatened to become a political powder keg. In The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, Holland uses transcripts of telephone conversations to reveal how Johnson handled his heavy inheritance—and tries to make the record clear, once and for all.
Knopf. 453 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 1400042380

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Holland’s commentary is so extensive that he can arguably be called this book’s author as much as its editor. His analysis is crisp, informed and consistently reasoned—on a subject that has inspired any number of writers to take leave of their senses." Thomas Mallon

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers not driven by a hunger for fresh clues may be the ideal audience for The Kennedy Assassination Tapes. It is a book offering a special kind of evidence: namely, that people on the scene moved as if in a fog, with the history unfolding around them often concealed from view. The panic and confusion recorded in the first hundred pages or so are palpable." Scott McLemee

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The result is an extremely compelling read—with one hitch. … One should question the extent to which these (or any) transcripts provide a full or accurate echo of the issues." Jeanne Nicholson

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[V]oluminous transcripts can make for tedious reading. Holland tackles this challenge by doing his best to forge the materials into a cogent and readable history. … For the most part, he succeeds admirably." Gerald Posner

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"Holland does yeoman’s work in providing context for the transcripts, many of which are garbled or incomplete. He isn’t shy about pointing out what he sees as the failures of earlier historians’ interpretations in ways that sometimes appear to bear the taint of academic pettiness." Dan Danbom

Critical Summary

The source material used in The Kennedy Assassination Tapes is well known and has been widely used, most notably in Michael Beschloss’ Taking Charge (see below). But Holland presents the conversations unfiltered by narrative—edited for concision and relevance—and saves his comments for the notes. If Holland is more editor than author, he’s still successful in the role. Newsday relishes that he "serves his footnotes with pepper," while recognizing that the audience might be slight for such a well-covered subject. The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, published on the 40th anniversary of the Warren Commission Report, is a welcome, if narrowly focused, appetizer for his forthcoming A Need to Know: Inside the Warren Commission, the recipient of the 2001 J. Anthony Lukas Award for works-in-progress.

Supplemental Reading

Taking Charge | Michael Beschloss [editor] (1997): Beschloss offers a strong selection and commentary on the Johnson tapes. Holland (see above) makes several corrections to Beschloss’s interpretations.