THE KENNEDYS: AMERICA'S FRONT-PAGE FAMILY
Compiled by the Poynter Institute (Andrews McMeel, 144 pages, $16.99)
What fun this book is -- poignant, nostalgic, political fun. Folks at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., have documented the lives of the Kennedys through newspaper coverage (primarily front pages), beginning in 1960 when John F. Kennedy Jr. entered politics, and ending in 2009 with the burial of his brother, Ted. It's jarring to see how crammed Page One was back in the day, often with a dozen or more stories and a scattering of small photos over the eight-column broadsheets, and it's easy to get distracted by some of the other news ("Airliner Collision Over N.Y. Kills 134; Boy, 11, Sole Survivor in Flaming Crash"), but the big teeth and wavy hair and frequent tragedies of the Kennedys stand out. Here's Ted, suspended from Harvard for cheating; here's John, serenaded by a sultry Marilyn Monroe; here's Jackie in her blood-soaked suit; here's Bobby lying on the floor, gripping a rosary, seconds after being shot. And here are headlines you'd never see today: TEDDY ESCAPES, BLONDE DROWNS, in screaming all caps. The thoughtful introduction by CBS reporter Bob Schieffer contains a great anecdote about driving Lee Harvey Oswald's mother to Dallas and almost landing the scoop of a lifetime. This is a fascinating look at the rise and fall of an American family, and one that traces the rise and fall, perhaps, of American newspapers, as well.
Collision of Evil
By John J. LeBeau (Oceanview, 325 pages, $25.95)
At first glance, this seems to be a tale that has been worked to death: Nazis at the end of World War II secreting away a diabolical weapon, and modern-day Islamic fanatics hell-bent on striking a deadly blow in Europe. But first glances are deceiving, and in John J. LeBeau's telling the story sizzles with tension and subterfuge. When Charles Hirter, a present-day American Alpine climber, is murdered, Franz Waldbaer, the Bavarian detective in charge of the case, is faced with a crime that yields no motive, no suspects, and no clues. Charles' brother, Robert, comes to Germany to retrieve the body and hangs around to see if he can be of some help to Waldbaer. The two strike up an uneasy friendship, especially since there is considerably more to Robert than meets the eye. Moreover, a mysterious letter left for Robert at his hotel by an aged German suddenly sets this story on white-hot afterburners. And what a ride it is! Skillfully melding Germany's tortured past with the designs of current lunatics, the author presents a scenario that is not only fresh and believable, but makes the book well nigh impossible to put down. The added dividend here is that the characters -- particularly the members of an Islamic cell bent on destruction, and the aged Germans struggling with their pasts -- are so meticulously rendered that the book comes gratifyingly close to literary fiction. The author, a professor at George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany, was for 25 years a CIA clandestine officer. He knows what he's writing about, and his insider knowledge has paid off handsomely.