"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." On the January morning when John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency and stood to speak those words, America was divided. Citizens around the world were torn by fears of war. Kennedy's speech, called the finest since Lincoln at Gettysburg, the most memorable of any 20th-century American politician, did more than reassure: it changed lives, marking the start of a brief, optimistic era of struggle against "tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself".
Ask Not is a beautifully detailed account of the week leading up to the inaugural which stands as one of the most moving spectacles in the history of American politics. At the heart of the narrative is Kennedy's quest to create a speech that would distill American dreams and empower a new generation. Clarke's portrait of JFK during what intimates called his happiest days is balanced, revealing the president at his most dazzlingly charismatic (and cunningly pragmatic). As the snow gradually covers Washington in a blanket of white, as statesmen and celebrities arrive for candle-lit festivities, Kennedy, an obsessed perfectionist, pushes himself, his family, and advisors to the limit to create greatness, to find the words which captured what he most truly believed and, as it happened, which far outlasted his own life.
For all who seek to understand the fascination with all things Kennedy, the answer is here. Ask Not explains the phenomenon to the heart and mind.
©2004 Thurston Clarke; (P)2004 Audio Renaissance, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC
"Clarke offers an excellent reconstruction of the details of that frigid, snow-encrusted day in January 1961....A valuable book worth making room for on the crowded Kennedy shelf." (Publishers Weekly)
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