Saturday, December 10, 2005

Book 45 or so: Act of Treason. Mark North 1991.

It took me months to read this book, putting the "50 books in a year" meme at risk. It took me months to get around to buying it after I first spotted it at the used book store that is my main source for Kennediana (Word? spelling?) It was in my car the day I broke down 20 miles from home and thought the transmission was shot and I would have to walk away from the car - the book was too heavy to carry 20 miles - but in the end I got the car fixed, and the book sat around half read while I read some other stuff, and then I've been really working on it for a month or two, but havent been spending as much time reading as usual.

I have a half-baked plan of wanting to write a book (or wiki) on LJB, so for a couple of years I've been reading LBJ stuff which has veered into Kennedy stuff. I'm far less interested in how he was killed than in how he lived, and this is one of those books that is focused on the assassination. I need to do a survey of that microindustry - there are some 500 JFK books; I wonder how well they sell and whether the authors make money.

Act of Treason reads more like journalism than like the typical academic history professor style. Short words, lots of facts, organized in calendar format, he walks us through 1961 and 1962 and 1963. These are years I don't remember well, being a toddler at the time. His thesis is that Kennedy was offed by the mob - the Enemy Within - in order to stop RFK's war on the mob's control of unions, and that J Edgar Hoover knew it was coming and deliberately failed to stop it. His focus is on Carlos Marcello, the mob boss of New Orleans, as the guy who organized the hit. New Orleans was the birthplace of the American branch of the mob, so its boss has clout, although the council of bosses had authorized the contract.

Is North right? Ask me 500 books from now. Does he tell a tale that hangs together and document it meticulously? I'd say yes. Is it an edge-of-the-seat can't-put-it-down thriller? Well, no. It runs 671 pages cover to cover, and while the writing is competent it's not gripping. I spotted a couple of minor proofreading errors and a minor misplaced factoid, but in general it's consistent with the other books I've read, and is a possible version. It has a plausible role for LBJ - not in on the killing, but preferable to both Hoover and the mob, and with a lot of skeltons of his own he wanted to cover up. RFK wanted to cover up that his brother and father were in bed with the mob. Hoover wanted to cover up that he had advance warning of the hit. Johnson wanted to cover up Bobby Baker, Billie Sol Estes, and the finances of LBJ, Inc., so between them we got the Warren commission and a coverup that spawned an industry. I began this quest a few years after reading Caro's Master of the Senate, which is book 3 of 4 in the life of LBJ. I now have more pieces of that puzzle, but am still looking forward eagerly to the next chapter - caro spends 10 years researching each volume, so my goal is to have my own book ready before his is out. His'll be better, but I want mine to be sooner. I'm more or less on track. The way I write is to spend a long time doing research, gradually start making notes, and then throw it together at the 11th hour once there's a deadline that can't be put off. I'm well into the research stage by now. It's an awkward topic - too much interest in the JFK killing is the hallmark signature of the nut, and I've been failrly frank here that one reason I have time to blog and read books about LBJ is I've had emotional problems that are keeping me from caring enough to bother having a regular job. We're still not sure how Will Baude manages to run three blogs, trot the globe, read this blog and dozens of others, read 50 solid books and innumerable articles, and oh yeah, attend Yale Law. But I remember law school as a time like that -lots of meetings, lots of books, lots of activism, a couple of jobs, and oh yeah law school, but all in much easier than working in the warehouse had been. I do not currently have that level of energy. Today's been productive just because I washed the dishes, swept the floor, blogged a little, got some but not other tiems on the to do list done. Reading books about kennedy, or about law, is a bit like what I've been doing today - killing roaches. The more on reads, or kills, the more one notices others, just out of reach. Anyway, it's midnight, and I'm off to the usual black mass - a guy just called me and said he's ready return my snake, so we'll go do a bit of snake handling. (We're fixing some plumbing.) To do: count and see if that's really book 45. My wish list for book 50: Volokh on getting your law review article published. That'd be a good goal for 2006 - submit a law review article somewhere.
Oh, the number? That's Lee Harvey Oswald's ssn. Write it down, or memorize it, for those times when somebody asks you your ssn without a privacy act statement. At your own risk, and not to be construed as legal advice.

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