Cover page

Wiley Blackwell Companions to History

This series provides sophisticated and authoritative overviews of the scholarship that has shaped our current understanding of the past. Defined by theme, period, and/or region, each volume comprises between twenty-five and forty concise essays written by individual scholars within their area of specialization. The aim of each contribution is to synthesize the current state of scholarship from a variety of historical perspectives and to provide a statement on where the field is heading. The essays are written in a clear, provocative, and lively manner, designed for an international audience of scholars, students, and general readers.

Wiley Blackwell Companions to American History

  1. A Companion to the American Revolution
    1. Edited by Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole
  2. A Companion to 19th-Century America
    1. Edited by William L. Barney
  3. A Companion to the American South
    1. Edited by John B. Boles
  4. A Companion to American Indian History
    1. Edited by Philip J. Deloria and Neal Salisbury
  5. A Companion to American Women's History
    1. Edited by Nancy A. Hewitt
  6. A Companion to Post-1945 America
    1. Edited by Jean-Christophe Agnew and Roy Rosenzweig
  7. A Companion to the Vietnam War
    1. Edited by Marilyn B. Young and Robert Buzzanco
  8. A Companion to Colonial America
    1. Edited by Daniel Vickers
  9. A Companion to American Foreign Relations
    1. Edited by Robert D. Schulzinger
  10. A Companion to 20th-Century America
    1. Edited by Stephen J. Whitfield
  11. A Companion to the American West
    1. Edited by William Deverell
  12. A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction
    1. Edited by Lacy K. Ford
  13. A Companion to American Technology
    1. Edited by Carroll Pursell
  14. A Companion to African-American History
    1. Edited by Alton Hornsby, Jr
  15. A Companion to American Immigration
    1. Edited by Reed Ueda
  16. A Companion to American Cultural History
    1. Edited by Karen Halttunen
  17. A Companion to California History
    1. Edited by William Deverell and David Igler
  18. A Companion to American Military History
    1. Edited by James Bradford
  19. A Companion to Los Angeles
    1. Edited by William Deverell and Greg Hise
  20. A Companion to American Environmental History
    1. Edited by Douglas Cazaux Sackman
  21. A Companion to Benjamin Franklin
    1. Edited by David Waldstreicher
  22. A Companion to American Legal History
    1. Edited by Sally E. Hadden and Alfred L. Brophy
  23. A Companion to the U.S. Civil War
    1. Edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean
  24. A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign
    1. Edited by Edward G. Lengel
  25. A Companion to American Sport History
    1. Edited by Steven A. Riess

Wiley Blackwell Presidential Companions

  1. A Companion to Franklin D. Roosevelt
    1. Edited by William Pederson
  2. A Companion to Richard M. Nixon
    1. Edited by Melvin Small
  3. A Companion to Theodore Roosevelt
    1. Edited by Serge Ricard
  4. A Companion to Thomas Jefferson
    1. Edited by Francis D. Cogliano
  5. A Companion to Lyndon B. Johnson
    1. Edited by Mitchell Lerner
  6. A Companion to George Washington
    1. Edited by Edward G. Lengel
  7. A Companion to Andrew Jackson
    1. Edited by Sean Patrick Adams
  8. A Companion to Woodrow Wilson
    1. Edited by Ross A. Kennedy
  9. A Companion to John Adams and John Quincy Adams
    1. Edited by David Waldstreicher
  10. A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents 18371861
    1. Edited by Joel H. Silbey
  11. A Companion to the Reconstruction Presidents 18651881
    1. Edited by Edward O. Frantz
  12. A Companion to John F. Kennedy
    1. Edited by Marc J. Selverstone


Edited by

Marc J. Selverstone

Wiley Logo

Notes on Contributors

Nicole L. Anslover is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University Northwest. Her recent publications include Harry S. Truman: The Coming of the Cold War (2013).

Donna M. Binkiewicz works in the History Department at California State University, Long Beach, where she teaches a variety of recent US history courses. Her research focuses on contemporary American politics and culture. She is the author of a book titled Federalizing the Muse: United States Arts Policy and the National Endowment for the Arts, 1965–1980 and several articles on politics and the arts.

Aniko Bodroghkozy is a media historian and Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion (2001) and Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement (2012). Currently, she is completing a book examining TV coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

MaryAnne Borrelli is a Professor of Government at Connecticut College whose research examines the construction and performance of gender through the US presidency. She has published a number of articles and book chapters; her books include The President's Cabinet (2002) and, most recently, The Politics of the President's Wife (2011).

Michael Brenes teaches courses in American history at Hunter College, CUNY. His research concentrates on the relationship between international affairs and domestic politics during the Cold War. He is currently working on a manuscript titled For Right and Might: The Militarization of the Cold War and the Remaking of American Democracy.

Derek C. Catsam is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is the author of Bleeding Red: A Red Sox Fan's Diary of the 2004 Season (2005) and Freedom's Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides (2011). He is currently working on a book on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s. He writes about African affairs for the New York-based Foreign Policy Association and has also contributed columns on both American and African politics to many newspapers and other publications.

Andreas W. Daum is a Professor of History at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is the author of Popular Science in the Nineteenth Century (in German, 2nd edn. 2002) and Kennedy in Berlin (2008) as well as coeditor of America, the Vietnam War and the World (2003) and Berlin – Washington, 1800–2000 (2005).

John Dumbrell is Professor of Government in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University. He is the author of nine books on the making and history of US foreign policy and on US–UK relations. His most recent books are A Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations in the Cold War and After (2001: cowinner of the Cambridge University Donner Book Prize), President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Communism (2004: winner of the R.E. Neustadt UK Book Prize), A Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations from the Cold War to Iraq (2006), Clinton's Foreign Policy: Between the Bushes (2009), and Rethinking the Vietnam War (2012).

Lily Geismer is Assistant Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College, where she teaches twentieth-century US political and urban history. She is the author of Don't Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (forthcoming).

James N. Giglio is Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at Missouri State University, where he taught American History for thirty-nine years. He has published seven books, including the Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1991, with an updated, revised edition issued in 2006), Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man (2001), and Call Me Tom: The Life of Thomas F. Eagleton (2011). Giglio has also published numerous articles on recent American history. He has, reviewed books and book manuscripts for the leading historical journals, and served on the board of editors for Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Seth Jacobs is Associate Professor of History at Boston College. He is the author of America's Miracle Man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem, Religion, Race, and U.S. Intervention in Southeast Asia, 1950–1957 (2004); Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963 (2006); and The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy in Cold War Laos (2012).

Robert David Johnson is Professor of History at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent books are Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case (coauthored with Stuart Taylor, 2007) and All the Way with LBJ: The 1964 Presidential Election (2009).

Noam Kochavi is Adjunct Lecturer at the Hebrew and Tel Aviv Universities. He is the author of A Conflict Perpetuated (2002) and Nixon and Israel (2009), and editor of Détente and Its Legacy, a special issue of Cold War History (2008). His most recent article is “Back to Center Stage: The Multidimensional Renaissance of American Foreign Relations History,” (Politika (Hebrew), 2013). With an educational background in both history and international relations, his principal fields of interest are international negotiation and the ideational origins of foreign-policy-making.

John M. Logsdon is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, where he was the founder and longtime director of GW's Space Policy Institute. Author, among many articles, essays, and edited books, of the award-winning study John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (2010), The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest (1970), and the main article on “space exploration” for the Encyclopedia Britannica, Logsdon is a sought-after commentator on space issues. In 2003 he was a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and formerly was a member of the NASA Advisory Council and its Exploration Committee.

Erin R. Mahan is Chief Historian for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Her recent publications include Kennedy, De Gaulle and Western Europe (2003), two Foreign Relations of the United States volumes on SALT and SALT II (2010 and 2013), and The Great War: A World War I Historical Collection (2013).

John McAdams is a political scientist with degrees from the University of Alabama (undergraduate) and Harvard (Ph.D.). He has been at Marquette University for over three decades, and has published over twenty articles in mainstream political science journals and law reviews. He published JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think about Claims of Conspiracy in 2011.

Alan McPherson is Professor of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of Yankee No! Anti-Americanism in U.S.–Latin American Relations (2003), Intimate Ties, Bitter Struggles: The United States and Latin America since 1945 (2006), and The Invaded: How Latin Americans and Their Allies Fought and Ended US Occupations (2014).

Philip E. Muehlenbeck, a Professorial Lecturer in History at George Washington University, is the author of Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy's Courting of African Nationalist Leaders (2012) and editor of Religion and the Cold War: A Global Perspective (2012) and Race, Ethnicity, and the Cold War: A Global Perspective (2012). His current research is on US–USSR–Czechoslovak–British competition for African civil aviation markets and on Czechoslovak policies towards Africa from 1955 to 1968.

Philip Nash is Associate Professor of History at Penn State University, Shenango Campus, where he has won three teaching awards. In 2010 he was Fulbright Visiting Professor at the National University of Singapore. He is author of The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Jupiters, 1957–1963 (1997) as well as numerous articles and book chapters. His current research is on America's first woman ambassadors c. 1933 to 1964.

Joseph A. Palermo is a Professor of History at California State University, Sacramento. He earned his doctorate in History from Cornell University in 1998. He has written two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (2001) and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (2008). His most recent work is a textbook on American society in the 1980s titled The Eighties (2012). He has written numerous articles including a biographical sketch of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., in The Human Tradition in America since 1945 (2003) and a chapter on the Nixon era in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (2004). He has been a writer for The Huffington Post since its founding in 2005.

Barbara A. Perry is cochair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, where she directs the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project. She is the author of Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier (2004) and Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch (2013).

Andrew Preston is Reader in American History and a Fellow of Clare College at Cambridge University, where he also serves as editor of The Historical Journal. He is the author of The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam (2006) and Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (2012).

Andrew Priest is a lecturer in US History at the University of Essex. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham and is the author of Kennedy, Johnson and NATO: Britain, America and the Dynamics of Alliance, 1962–68 (2006).

Robert B. Rakove is a lecturer in International Relations at Stanford University. He is the author of Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World (2012). He is presently at work on a history of the United States and Afghanistan in the decades preceding the Soviet invasion.

Donald A. Ritchie is Historian of the United States Senate, where he has conducted oral histories, prepared previously closed documents for publication, and provided research and reference on Senate history. His books include Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corp (2005), Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932 (2007), and The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction (2010).

William J. Rorabaugh has taught at the University of Washington since 1976. An expert on the 1960s, he is the author of Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties (2002) and The Real Making of the President: Kennedy, Nixon, and the 1960 Election (2009). He is currently working on a book on American counterculture.

Marc J. Selverstone is Associate Professor and Chair of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, where he edits volumes in the Presidential Recordings series, published by the University of Virginia Press. He is the author of Constructing the Monolith: The United States, Great Britain, and International Communism, 1945–1950 (2009), which won the Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. He is currently writing The Kennedy Withdrawal: Camelot and the American Commitment to Vietnam.

April R. Summitt is Associate Professor of History and Dean of the Division of General Education at La Sierra University, Riverside, California. Her publications include John F. Kennedy and US–Middle East Relations: A History of American Foreign Policy in the 1960s (2008).

Jeffrey F. Taffet is Professor of History in the Department of Humanities at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. He is the author of Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy: The Alliance for Progress in Latin America (2007).

Jeff Woods is Professor of History and Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Arkansas Tech University. He is the author of two books – Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anticommunism in the South, 1948–1968 (2004) and Richard Russell, Southern Nationalism, and American Foreign Policy (2007) – and several articles, including “The Changing South” in A Companion to Lyndon B. Johnson (ed. Mitchell B. Lerner, 2012).

Thomas W. Zeiler is Professor of History and Director of the Program in International Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder. Recent publications include Annihilation: A Global Military History of World War II (2011), A Companion to World War II (2012), Guide to U.S. Foreign Policy: A Diplomatic History (2012), and Jackie Robinson and Race in America (coedited with Robert McMahon, 2013).


Marc J. Selverstone

Fifty years after his assassination, John F. Kennedy continues to inspire divergent views – sometimes wildly so – about the virtues of his administration and the meaning of his presidency. The disjuncture among and between scholars, journalists, and the American public remains an intriguing aspect of the national conversation about the thirty-fifth president. While serious writing on Kennedy has adhered to a familiar dialectic of initial praise, followed by criticism, followed by some blend of the two, popular appraisals of his presidency have remained almost uniformly positive, a dynamic that was particularly evident during this most recent commemorative moment. Published titles and commentary that appeared in the run-up to November 2013 offered portraits of a courageous and farsighted president, battling ill health, impulsive adversaries, and, at times, ineffective advisors. Yet, even as the literature expands to incorporate new findings about his political and personal affairs, the historical Kennedy remains elusive, a beloved figure of myth and memory and an inspiration to millions, as well as an all-too-human politician, exploiting the trappings of privilege and power, and pragmatic to a fault. This wealth of new material, therefore, while helpful in either detailing or updating our knowledge of his family, his advisors, his last hundred days, his assassination, and his legacy – to say nothing of his policies – has yet to generate a satisfactory consensus about his significance in American life.

Such interpretive instability reflects a persistent tension between the dominant explanations that have shaped our understanding of JFK. Studies celebrating the administration and lamenting its untimely passing focus on his style as well as his substance. These works laud Kennedy for his charm and wit, even for his accessibility; hosting artists and intellectuals in the East Room, instituting the live, televised press conference, inviting the American public to tour the refurbished White House on television, Kennedy opened a window onto the presidency that previously had been closed. The grace he displayed in these and like encounters with the media was more than matched by his coolness under fire when confronting a host of crises at home and abroad. Kennedy kept the United States out of wars, the argument goes, in Cuba, in Laos, and in Berlin, and repeatedly faced down calls to introduce combat forces into Vietnam. Not only did he save the world from nuclear war with his adroit, flexible, and creative response to the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, but he also sought to move beyond the Cold War altogether, offering an olive branch to Moscow and the possibility of a lasting peace. At home, while halting in his initial response to the plight of black Americans, Kennedy came to embrace the cause of civil rights, proposing landmark legislation to achieve long-overdue advances in social justice. And, while he sought to enact additional liberal reforms in the areas of health, housing, and education, his inability to do so owed less to his genuine commitment to these measures than to the hostility of entrenched interests in Congress. In short, this idealist without illusions, this first knight of Camelot, was emerging over the course of his presidency as a wiser, bolder, more visionary, and more successful statesman, guiding Americans – indeed, the citizens of the world – more safely and securely into the New Frontier.

And then it all ended.

The shots that rang out in Dallas – vile and obscene on a human level, disorienting and disquieting for national life – likewise had a profound effect on our historical understanding of Kennedy's thousand days in office. Freezing his administration in time, they allowed former aides and defenders not only to praise what he achieved, but also to lament what might have been. The promise of those unrealized dreams – in civil rights, in social reform, in his handling of wars hot and cold – would be the lens through which supporters traced a history they thought destined to be, yet which detractors maintained never was. Rather than saving the world in October 1962, his critics argued, Kennedy helped to create the context for the Soviet deployment of missiles to Cuba and then nearly sparked the armed conflict he sought to avoid. Notwithstanding his peaceful and constructive overtures toward the Soviet Union, both rhetorical and tangible, he nevertheless pursued a massive buildup of America's military defenses. Prospects for easing tensions with Cuba were belied by persistent efforts to undermine that regime; indeed, Kennedy would continue to pursue regime change throughout the world – in Central America, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and, perhaps most dramatically, in Southeast Asia – right up until his assassination. His newfound commitment to civil rights hardly assured passage of bills as strong as those that made their way through Congress in 1964 and 1965; nor were his other legislative gambits, on matters including taxes, health insurance, and education, as likely to receive congressional backing on his watch as they later would under his successor. In all, his critics would argue, Kennedy was more style than substance, more cynical pragmatist than earnest reformer, the beneficiary of a compliant and fawning press, who never had to confront the social and political explosions that came later in the decade.

These perspectives, which mark the general contours of the literature, fail to capture the complexity of the man and his moment. Accordingly, this volume on the historiography of the Kennedy presidency looks to move beyond these portrayals to highlight more nuanced understandings of key individuals and developments, as well as specific challenges and episodes, large and small. While it touches on matters that predate Kennedy's time in the White House, it focuses primarily on his presidency, addressing the people, themes, and events that helped to shape it. An introductory chapter exploring the major Kennedy biographies establishes the broad parameters of the ways that scholars have understood his administration, his policies, and, more broadly, his life; it also chronicles Kennedy's medical problems as well as his personal peccadilloes. Following a pair of essays that explore Kennedy's political career prior to the presidency – his fourteen years in Congress and the many months of the 1960 presidency campaign – a series of studies examine the roles and impact of key people surrounding him, as well as the institutions and dynamics he either engaged or confronted; these chapters focus on aides and officials such as Theodore Sorensen and Robert F. Kennedy, as well as on JFK's dealings with Congress and the military. A third section looks squarely at the major conflicts the administration confronted – Kennedy's wars, as one scholar has termed them, from Berlin and Cuba to Laos and Vietnam (Freedman 2000). Several chapters follow covering the many regional and global burdens that Kennedy would bear; this emphasis on foreign policy accords with Kennedy's own appreciation of the dominant challenges facing his administration. Domestic concerns, particularly the cause of civil rights, would emerge as increasingly salient during those thousand days, and essays on several of these matters form the penultimate section of the volume. A final chapter on the events in Dallas and the competing theories surrounding them concludes the volume. It hardly ends speculation, however, on the assassination, or, as the other twenty-nine chapters included here suggest, on writing about Kennedy. Given the sustained interest in JFK that has marked the past fifty years, new works on his life, his administration, and his legacy will likely appear regularly in the years to come. Indeed, a reinterpretation of Kennedy's place in American life has surfaced at least once a generation, and portraits of his presidency continue to intrigue the professional scholar and interested public alike.

In this regard, the memorial to the fallen president – the eternal flame that marks his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, conceived by his widow, Jacqueline – is a fitting symbol for his legacy, both historical and historiographical. It represents the timelessness of his inspiration, which fired the optimism of so many in the United States and around the world, leading many Americans to pursue lives of public service, to believe that their country could rise to new heights, and to labor so that their nation might more fully realize the promise of its creed. As evidenced during this fiftieth commemoration of his presidency, Kennedy's spark continues to burn within the generations that lived through his era. Insofar as it speaks to the better angels of our nature, and to the enduring themes of an American ethos, it may fire the imagination of generations yet to come.

But the Arlington tribute also symbolizes the timelessness of Kennedy's life, especially his political life. It evokes a president, and a presidency, forever young. His term cut short, Kennedy would never age, would never have to confront another domestic or foreign challenge, would never have the story of his administration written from its constitutional beginnings to its natural end. The writing of that story, which would have offered competing assessments in any event, would now incorporate a more open-ended, speculative element, which itself would shape the narrative of what had actually come to pass. Beyond the drama of the history that Kennedy made and lived through, it is this feedback loop that carries with it the potential for a richer, more expansive, and more creative historiography that may yet allow for a better understanding of the Kennedy years and the Kennedy legacy.


  1. Freedman, L. (2000) Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, & Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press.

Part I
The Biographies

Chapter One
Writing Kennedy

James N. Giglio