The Kennedy Assassination Tapes

by Max Holland

A major work of documentary history–the brilliantly edited and annotated transcripts, most of them never before published, of the presidential conversations of Lyndon B. Johnson regarding the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath.

The transition from John F. Kennedy to Johnson was arguably the most wrenching and, ultimately, one of the most bitter in the nation’s history. As Johnson himself said later, “I took the oath, I became president. But for millions of Americans I was still illegitimate, a naked man with no presidential covering, a pretender to the throne….The whole thing was almost unbearable.”

In this book, Max Holland, a leading authority on the assassination and longtime Washington journalist, presents the momentous telephone calls President Johnson made and received as he sought to stabilize the country and keep the government functioning in the wake of November 22, 1963. The transcripts begin on the day of the assassination, and reveal the often chaotic activity behind the scenes as a nation in shock struggled to come to terms with the momentous events. The transcripts illuminate Johnson’s relationship with Robert F. Kennedy, which flared instantly into animosity; the genuine warmth of his dealings with Jacqueline Kennedy; his contact with the FBI and CIA directors; and the advice he sought from friends and mentors as he wrestled with the painful transition.

We eavesdrop on all the conversations–including those with leading journalists–that persuaded Johnson to abandon his initial plan to let Texas authorities investigate the assassination. Instead, we observe how he abruptly established a federal commission headed by a very reluctant chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren. We also learn how Johnson cajoled and drafted other prominent men–among them Senator Richard Russell (who detested Warren), Allen Dulles, John McCloy, and Gerald Ford–into serving.

We see a sudden president under unimaginable pressure, contending with media frenzy and speculation on a worldwide scale. We witness the flow of inaccurate information–some of it from J. Edgar Hoover–amid rumors and theories about foreign involvement. And we glimpse Johnson addressing the mounting criticism of the Warren Commission after it released its still-controversial report in September 1964.

The conversations rendered here are nearly verbatim, and have never been explained so thoroughly. No passages have been deleted except when they veered from the subject. Brought together with Holland’s commentaries, they make riveting, hugely revelatory reading.

  • Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; September 2004
  • ISBN: 9781400043781
  • Read online, or download in secure ePub format
  • Title: The Kennedy Assassination Tapes
  • Author: Max Holland
  • Imprint: Knopf

In The Press

“No event in history has ever been recorded more minutely than the assassination of John F. Kennedy and yet it all remains a mystery. But it is not only shock, confusion, and hurt that can be heard in the words of those who lived through it captured on tape at the time and now transcribed, edited, and placed in context by Max Holland, one of the country’s leading experts on the assassination and its aftermath. Complex political issues were unfolding as well and the tension between the pain of loss, the fear of conspiracy threatening to run wild, and the hard practical matters required to get a new president up and running can all be found in this powerful volume. These transcripts, in all their raw variety, peel away the scar tissue of forty years and help us to see the awful event whole.”
—Tom Powers

"The Kennedy Assassination Tapes fills a significant hole in our understanding of Lyndon Johnson's response to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The book is a welcome antidote to the assertions about LBJ's involvement in JFK’s death. It sets a standard of scholarship that every writer on the assassination should imitate."
Robert Dallek

“...There is a great deal for historians to chew on; the work is a valuable addition to the written and spoken record concerning the events in Dallas that still haunt our national psyche.”
—Jay Freeman, Booklist

“...An informative and entertaining look inside the crucial years of the [Johnson] administration. [Holland is a] deft writer and observer [who] explains how certain myths and inaccuracies about the assassination began.”
—Gerald Posner, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“[Holland’s description] of November 22, 1963 [is] engrossing, if ultimately tragic, story.”
—Richard Tofel, Wall Street Journal

“[Brings back November 22] with a chilling immediacy to those of us old enough to remember it...we see Johnson always calculating, always cajoling, always contemplating the political ramifications of the Kennedy assassination.”
—Dan Danborn, Rocky Mountain News

“ extremely compelling read...written with such knowledge and attention to detail that one becomes fascinated.”
—Jeanne Nicholson, Providence Journal

“[Holland] presents skilled transcriptions...and makes a strong case that the bitter legacy of John F. Kennedy’s murder and the later widespread loss of confidence in the [Warren] Commission’s findings drove Johnson from office as much as the Vietnam War. [Holland’s] superb grasp of the assassination’s historical circumstances results in richly annotated transcriptions that capture the mood of national despondency that followed Kennedy’s death...strongly recommended.”
Library Journal

“[Holland’s] superior knowledge and intimate familiarity with the presidential recordings has allowed him to correct the far the most lucid and compelling account of the role President Johnson played in the investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination.”
—Mel Ayton, History News Network

“ instructive, even poignant, look at how self-interest and accident may complicate the federal investigation of a national calamity...Holland’s commentary is extensive [and] his analysis is crisp, informed and consistently reasoned—on a subject that has inspired any number of writers to take leave of their senses.”
—Thomas Mallon, New York Times Book Review

About The Author

Max Holland has worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., for more than twenty years. In 2001, he won the
J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for a forthcoming narrative history of the Warren Commission. He is a contributing editor at The Nation and The Wilson Quarterly, and his articles have also appeared in The Atlantic, American Heritage, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. From 1998 to 2003 he was a research fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. His work has also been supported by fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. This is is his third book. He lives with his wife and daughter in Silver Spring, Maryland.