It has been nearly 50 years since John F. Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas. A brand-new book, released this August, begins on that tragic day — at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 22, 1963.
“These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie” is a biography. It isn’t just about that terrible day, however. After the first chapter, the author goes back in time, remembering the thousand days that Jack and Jackie Kennedy occupied the White House, especially their last year together.
The book was written by Christopher Andersen, a former contributing editor of Time magazine and senior editor of People. Andersen has written 15 best-selling books, four of which were about the Kennedy family. Two of his books were No. 1: “The Day That Diana Died” and “The Day John Died” (about JFK Jr.).
“These Few Precious Days: The Final Year with Jack and Jackie” is published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (2013).
The biography is based on years of research, which included conversations with people who knew Jack and Jackie best. According to Andersen in the book’s acknowledgments, in referring to the people he interviewed, “They wanted to talk. No, they needed to talk, to set the record straight.”
The people came from different walks of life, among them politicians, family members, friends, staff members, doctors and others — hundreds of people.
Andersen drew from other sources, too, including those found in a numerous libraries and other institutions. There were 260 hours of taped conversations conducted in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room during the Kennedy years. And then in 2011, tapes of conversations between Arthur Schlesinger and Jackie were released.
The book has a section with sources and chapter notes, and the bibliography at the end of the book has a list of roughly 150 sources (I counted them). I’m impressed with the amount of research that went into the writing of this biography.
There are several pages of photographs in the book and between chapters. There are pages of quotations by Jack, Jackie and others who knew them.
The title of the book comes from Jack’s favorite song that he often sang at gatherings, and according to the author, he sometimes looked at Jackie when he sang the words: “And these few precious days I’ll spend with you. These precious days, I’ll spend with you.”
There are 11 chapters in the book that cover the daily White House routine for Jack and Jackie, entertaining at the White House, stories about raising the children, Jackie’s role in “enhancing America prestige abroad,” Jackie’s role in renovating the White House and so much more.
There were plenty of rough times. For one thing, there was Jack’s health. He suffered from all kinds of childhood ailments. According to the author, Jack’s back problems possibly began when a family driver sneaked up on Jack when he and brother Joe were practicing football. This happened at Joe Sr.’s orders. The back injury plagued Jack for the rest of his life.
Jack also suffered from Addison’s, allergies and asthma, intolerance to lactose, an underactive thyroid and more. At one time, it was thought that he had only a short time to live. Even so, Jack played golf, swam and played softball and touch football (though he didn’t run for a touchdown).
Jackie suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, a difficult delivery and lost infant son, Patrick. The author writes that either Jack or the first lady “were administered the last rites at least six times.”
There’s so much more to the book — much more than can be covered in this review. For example, there were Jack’s infidelities (including his affair with Marilyn Monroe) and the two times that Jackie considered divorce. There was the doctor, nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood” who gave Jack, Jackie, Bobby and others “feel good” shots on a regular basis.
And even after all that they went through, Jack and Jackie seemed to grow closer following Patrick’s death. The biography is a love story.
This book is a must read. I have read it twice since I checked the book out from the Moffat County Library about a week ago. If you would like to purchase the book, it is about $27 in hardcover.