The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America
By Thurston Clarke
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805072136, 272pp.)
Publication Date: September 9, 2004
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A close-up on one of American history's most magical events, JFK's inaugural week, and the creation of the speech that inspired a generation and brought hope to a nation
"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." On the January morning when John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency and stood to speak those words, America was divided, its citizens torn by fears of war. Kennedy's speech-called the finest since Lincoln at Gettysburg and the most memorable of any twentieth-century American politician-did more than reassure: it changed lives, marking the start of a brief, optimistic era of struggle against "tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself."
Ask Not is a beautifully detailed account of the week leading up to the inaugural which stands as one of the most moving spectacles in the history of American politics. At the heart of the narrative is Kennedy's quest to create a speech that would distill American dreams and empower a new generation. Thurston Clarke's portrait of JFK during what intimates called his happiest days is balanced, revealing the President at his most dazzlingly charismatic-and cunningly pragmatic. As the snow covers Washington in a blanket of white, as statesmen and celebrities arrive for candlelit festivities, the perfectionist Kennedy pushes himself to the limit, to find the words that would capture what he most truly believed and which would far outlast his own life. For everyone who seeks to understand the fascination with all things Kennedy, the answer can be found in Ask Not.
Thurston Clarke has written nine books of fiction and nonfiction, including Pearl Harbor Ghosts and California Fault, a New York Times notable book. His articles have been published in Vanity Fair, Glamour, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in Willsboro, New York, with his wife and three daughters.
"JFK's inaugural has gotten the book it deserves . . . Anyone who wants to understand why this president changed all of our lives need only open these pages to see him during his finest, most captivating and memorable moments." -Strobe Talbott
"Clarke's meticulous investigation of Kennedy's inaugural address . . . 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: The Private World of the Kennedy White House
“Thurston Clarke has taken a brief, beautiful speech and recreated an extraordinary moment in time. He understands the power of words, the way they can animate an age and move the world.”—Evan Thomas, co-author of The Wise Men, author of John Paul Jones
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