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Reconsidering JFK

Take an exciting new look at JFK’s presidency, enhanced by new documents, interviews, and information about this exciting period in American history.
Reconsidering JFK is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 46.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! November 22, 2023 It is hard to believe that it has been 60 years to the day that JFK was assassinated. I was not sure whether this course would add anything to the voluminous historical material on JFK. However, this course proves to be a significant addition to our knowledge. Prof. Michael Shelden delivers another tour de force when he brings fresh insights and interpretation to the known facts of JFK’s life and death. Frankly, I have never been a big “fan” of JFK, but this course offers a more balanced, nuanced view of the man. I can recommend this course unreservedly to anyone with an interest in JFK.
Date published: 2023-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 11 lectures = 4.5 stars / lecture 11 = Zero stars! This is the fourth course by Professor Michael Shelden, Ph.D., that I have watched. I really enjoy his manner of speaking and his knowledge of his subjects. I was especially impressed with his superb lectures on Churchill and George Orwell, and I thought this course would score just as high. Unfortunately, when I got to lecture 11 which covers the assassination, I was totally disappointed and even ashamed of his handling of the subject. These are very strong words for me, but I am compelled to write this review (my very first review on a series and I have watched over 1,700 hours of Great Courses). Here are the reasons for my "ZERO" star review for lecture 11: 1. The professor points out the ongoing feud between LBJ and Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough. Focusing on minutiae like that during this watershed moment in history is equivalent to giving a review of the play, "Our American Cousin," at Ford's Theatre, during Lincoln's assassination. Who gives a rat's behind? 2. JFK was killed almost 60 years ago. Why are there still almost 4,000 documents that have not been released, even though everything was supposed to be released in 2017? What is the government still hiding? 3. Who waived off the Secret Service agents at Love Field who normally would have been riding on the back bumper of JFK's limousine? 4. Who changed the parade route to make a 90 degree turn and lead JFK's car into a "kill zone" right past the School Book Depository Building? If you look at film from that time, you will see how most of the streets on the parade route are overflowing with people, yet, at Dealey Plaza, the crowds aren't nearly as dense. Why is there no mention of National Security Action Memo #263, which was approved on October 11, 1963, stating that 1,000 troops would be withdrawn by the end of 1963. Yet, on November 26, 1963, four days after JFK's assassination, that order was canceled by National Security Action Memo #273 and within a year we had 250,000 troops in Vietnam, with more than 534,000 at the peak (including me). 6. Why is there no mention in any of the lectures about the CIA's "Operation Northwoods" plan to shoot down a dummy American airplane in the Gulf of Mexico and use that incident as a pretext to start a full-scale war with Cuba? The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved it, but JFK didn't. I do, however, want to commend Professor Shelden for mentioning JFK's excellent speech at the American University, given on June 10, 1963. That speech was so important that it could be heard without censorship in the Soviet Union, but at the time, it received very little notice in the U.S. Finally, I want to thank you for reading, if you made it this far. Perhaps, at some point in the future, Americans may come to realize that November 22, 1963, represented a coup d'é·tat in the U.S.A.
Date published: 2023-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reliving those "brief, shining moments"! I was 17 when I shook JFK's hand in a rally in my hometown as he campaigned for the presidency in 1960; 19 when I sat under a tree on my college campus and contemplated what the still unfolding Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 might mean for my immediate future; and 20 when, coming out of a class late one morning, I was greeted with, "The president has been shot!" Like other students I rushed to the TVs in the student union where we -- not knowing of what the Zapruder film later chillingly revealed -- retained fading hope that the wounded president might live. And I still remember Walter Cronkite, pausing and wiping his eyes after he received a hand-delivered note, saying in a trembling voice that the president was, in fact, dead. And then my already wounded spirit was shattered in 1968 when I was 24 as both Dr. Martin Luther King and JFK's brother Bobby were murdered, too! It was because of JFK that I soon afterwards ended up spending 12 years in elected office in my home state of Iowa -- because I was inspired to do my own best to try to make things better. Of course, way back then, most of us knew almost nothing about JFK's extreme womanizing -- beyond a few tawdry whispers that we discounted as motivated by those envious of JFK or, worse, those who despised all that we believed that he stood for. It was also a long time before I came to realize how very close we had come to all-out nuclear war in 1962. So it was that I approached this course with mixed feelings; I wanted to learn more about that remarkable young man from my youth, but I also hesitated to reopen that deep well of feelings that his tragic ending had caused in my heart of hearts. I am very pleased to report that this is, as I have come to expect from the Great Courses, a wonderfully balanced and immersive return to those years. JFK's great weakness -- his womanizing -- was the subject of one entire lecture of this brief, 12-lecture course. And in this Professor Sheldon "pulled no punches." JFK's behavior was truly reckless and deeply harmful to his lovely wife and puzzling to those closest to him in the White House. Although Sheldon does not attempt to "explain" what psychological factors might have somehow accounted for at least some of this extreme behavior, after completing the course I personally wonder if his very precarious health -- something else about which I had known nothing as a young man -- his belief that he would not live to be an old man, "might" have been behind his "grab what you can while you still can" behavior. Nothing "excuses" this behavior, of course, but I continue to wonder how and why a man who seemed to have so much gambled everything in such egregious ways. I found the JFK who emerged from this insightful study to be more deeply and genuinely human than the man whom I nearly idolized as a boy, and for that very reason -- now that I am an old man of 80 myself who has "been around the block" more than once -- even more admirable. Despite his shortcomings and extreme physical distress, he showed a remarkable capacity to learn, especially from his mistakes; to question the alleged soundness of advice from "experts"; and to attempt to see beyond potential immediate consequences of actions to those two, three, or even four steps beyond that. Although he was sucked into the Bay of Pigs fiasco very early in his first year as president, he did not buckle under to the hopes of his military and CIA that he would send American troops in to save that flawed-from-the-beginning invasion. And with the even more dangerous Cuban Missile Crisis 18 months later he held off on the kinds of military steps his advisors were urging upon him in order to work out a face-saving option for his opponent, Soviet Premier Khrushchev. But I still think his finest quality was best evidenced in his remarkable commencement address at American University in spring of 1963 when he articulated his hopes for a world of peace in which adversaries could find a way to live -- in tension, perhaps, but without conflict. That address and its way of thinking still has a lot to offer to the "leaders" of the United States today. It turned out to be a very good thing that I decided to watch this course and, for just a few hours, to once again live when my youthful hopes were also "brief and shining moments."
Date published: 2023-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A balanced and Objective Look at History I found this a really interesting and balanced informative course to look at a time in current history that has been mythologized both positively and negatively over the ensuing decades. The professor was excellent, with a clear and measured way of speaking with a balanced objective way of presenting the facts. I sincerely hope he will do other courses. Perhaps a series of courses on the American First Ladies? Or more courses on the other 20th and 21st Century Presidents? Maybe both. Reconsidering JFK definitely helped me to understand that era in history much better while refreshing things I'd forgotten. It's also inspired me to look up historical figures I didn't actually remember learning about, such as LBJ's rival(s?) in the political world in the state of Texas. I don't remember ever learning about them, particularly Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough. Also, it was a really well-rounded insightful look at such historical moments as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a great refresher for me. And yes, provided it's a topic that interests a person, I would recommend it.
Date published: 2023-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent series This series is full of excellent background information, as well as fresh analysis of the JFK presidency. I recommend it wholeheartedly. Michael Sheldon is fantastic.
Date published: 2023-04-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ambivalent I have taken several hundred Great Courses, including Michael Shelden’s “George Orwell” course (outstanding, in my opinion). This JFK course is more problematic, maybe a B+ overall—probably something akin to JFK himself. This course “covers the ground,” including both highlights (e.g., Cuban missile crisis) and lowlights (e.g., personal life, lack of depth/governance in early days of presidency). However, perhaps a bit thin on the ground in some respects. For example, i) a throwaway lecture on the Texas political tiff on why JFK made the Dallas trip (who cares?), ii) framing the racism and Civil Rights movement as largely a federal/state government “good guys/bad guys” paradigm (much more complex, as both Gunnar Myrdal and Martin Luther King would attest), iii) speculating on how Vietnam would have fared with JFK (who knows?). Regardless, I’m not sure any JFK course will satisfy the emotional valence of the baby boomer AARP generation, be it hagiography or invective. I read once that the Great Depression was such a searing emotional experience for its generation, that any dispassionate economic history of that time was incapable of being written--much less digested--until that generation had passed from the scene. Ditto JFK, perhaps. JFK is such an emotional subject for many current Great Course customers, that a truly dispassionate JFK “Great Course” probably awaits another generation. Sigh.
Date published: 2023-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course, worth your time If you are of my generation or older you remember the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, 22 November 1963. I was in 6th grade at an elementary school in Toms River, New Jersey. It was the first time in my educational career that I had had a male teacher. He was a very tall, skinny man who I remember mainly because he was male and his reaction to the Kennedy news. When they announced over the loudspeaker that the President had been assassinated, this man cried. However, when I raised my hand after the announcement to ask a question he waved me off. Both things made a deep impression on me. Using the hindsight of 58 years, I hope he was simply too choked up to talk. As I remember it, Kennedy was popular and his wife, Jacqueline even more so. I do remember my father had comedy album – yeah that was a thing – poking fun of Kennedy and the White House. After the assassination my father never played the album again. It stopped being funny, and would have been disrespectful. Kennedy was nothing if not complex. Can imagine what the press would do with his open womanizing in this day and age? Then put the Bay of Pigs against the Cuban Missile Crisis. He totally blew it in the first instance, and may have prevented a large scale war in the second. Put his vision for putting a man on the moon with his Cold War warrior attitude that led to our involvement in Vietnam. He was a master politician who understood and used the power of the new medium of television. With Kennedy it seemed that for every yin there was yang… and not always in a positive sense. The course is taught by Michael Shelden, PhD, an absolutely amazing historian, IMHO, and a wonderful presenter in the Wondrium format. I have watched every course he has on this platform, first discovering his biography on George Orwell that was based on his book that is an authorized biography of this influential author. His George Orwell biography was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It must have been tough competition if he did not win. I will list all his other courses at the end of this article. One very interesting topic that Professor Shelden touched on was Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ was not happy being Vice President, especially so after wielding all the power he had as Senate Majority Leader. I strongly came away with the impression that Shelden was not a fan of LBJ on several fronts. One thing that I did not know before was the reason Kennedy was in Texas. It was due to some the shenanigans of LBJ that were threatening the lost of Texas for Kennedy in the upcoming presidential election. Of course, LBJ is another “complex” American president. I have often wondered about the psychology of many of the folks that have sought after so much power. To me, it often seems less than healthy. Today the memory of Kennedy seems to be in two dueling camps. In one he is stuff of mythology and legend. In the other he is a deeply flawed individual who made far too many mistakes and accomplished little. One thing that I had forgotten was that it was Jackie, his wife, who pushed the Camelot analogy. She worked hard most of her life to protect his legacy. As in most of these things, the truth, in all likelihood, lies somewhere in the middle. Professor Shelden hopefully will shield a little light for you on this very interesting American president that was only in office a short time. A fantastic course, by an incredible historian.
Date published: 2023-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reconsidering JFK This is the second course i've taken with Prof. Shelden. I learned more about this topic than I knew! I was just 13 when Pres. Kennedy was killed. This added perspective to my knowledge of his presidency. Prof. Shelden speaks with clear and precise statements; It seems as though he is giving each lecture to me! Thank you for offering this course. BTW, the other course I took taught by Prof. Shelden was the Beatles. I hope he continues to provide additional courses in the future.
Date published: 2022-12-19
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Overview

Although so much ink has been spilled about JFK, recent years have seen the public release of documents and interviews, shedding new light on this most charismatic president. In Reconsidering JFK, Professor Michael Shelden of Indiana State University delivers 12 captivating lectures to transport you back in time for a fresh angle on a multi-faceted, always fascinating American president.

About

Michael Shelden

There is much yet to discover, and lessons we can learn to help us chart a better path forward.

INSTITUTION

Indiana State University

Michael Shelden is a Professor of English at Indiana State University, where he has won the top award for excellence in scholarship, the Theodore Dreiser Distinguished Research/Creativity Award, three times. He earned his PhD in English from Indiana University. He is the author of six biographies, including Orwell: The Authorized Biography, which was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His other Great Courses include How Winston Churchill Changed the World; George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons; and England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles.

By This Professor

How Winston Churchill Changed the World
854
George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons
854
England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles
854
Reconsidering JFK
854
Reconsidering JFK

Trailer

JFK Reconsidered

01: JFK Reconsidered

Who was John F. Kennedy? So many people had a view of him, but as you will discover in this opening lecture, JFK excelled at compartmentalizing his life so that few—if anyone—truly knew him. Settle in to investigate the life of this charming, courageous, and multifaceted personality.

31 min
1956: Vice President Kennedy?

02: 1956: Vice President Kennedy?

In the 1950s, Kennedy was a sickly and relatively obscure senator, but his star quickly rose in the 1956 Democratic convention, when he mounted a spirited campaign to win delegates for the vice presidency. Gain an inside look at the backstabbing, backroom deals of a party that expected the young politician to pay his dues.

30 min
JFK’s Pivotal Choices to Win the Presidency

03: JFK’s Pivotal Choices to Win the Presidency

After losing the nomination in 1956, JFK understood he had a narrow window to catapult him to the highest office. As you will see here, 1960 was the year, and television was the medium to showcase his strengths to the American public. Survey his campaign against the seasoned politician Richard Nixon.

29 min
Unearthing JFK’s Public and Private Lives

04: Unearthing JFK’s Public and Private Lives

Handsome and charming, Kennedy was a well-known playboy, which was something of an open secret in Washington during his time in office. While the press of the day considered his peccadillos too lurid for publication, new testimonies and interviews have come to light, shedding a different perspective on the president’s pastimes.

27 min
Kennedy’s New Approach to the Presidency

05: Kennedy’s New Approach to the Presidency

With his inexperienced background and his youthful vigor, JFK brought an intriguing new dynamic to Washington. After setting the stage of the foreign and domestic challenges Kennedy faced when entering office, Professor Shelden reflects on the role of speechwriters and aides in shaping Kennedy’s approach to the job.

30 min
1961: The Education of a President

06: 1961: The Education of a President

JFK entered office optimistic but naïve. Not only did he thread some political challenges, such as the split in the Democratic party between progressive New Englanders and southern segregationists, but he also confronted aggressive Cold Warriors who wanted to incite a war via the Bay of Pigs invasion.

31 min
Promising the Moon

07: Promising the Moon

In the wake of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy asserted his own approach to the Cold War and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. In an attempt at a political reset, JFK looked to outer space and avowed the United States would send a man to the moon. Here, examine America’s fledgling space program.

29 min
Before and during the Cuban Missile Crisis

08: Before and during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Kennedy’s presidency involved one crushing challenge after another. While 1961 was a difficult year, 1962 was among the hardest any American president has faced. See how the president dealt with negotiations at home (against US Steel) and abroad (when the Soviets placed nuclear warheads in Cuba).

30 min
Kennedy’s New America

09: Kennedy’s New America

The peaceful end to the Cuban Missile Crisis marked a new era for the Cold War, in which all sides understood the threat of nuclear annihilation. Fortunately, President Kennedy was savvy enough to manage the nuclear age—and was able to turn his attention to the civil rights movement. Here, delve into the world of segregation and political activism.

30 min
Kennedy’s Strategy in Vietnam

10: Kennedy’s Strategy in Vietnam

President Kennedy fought the Cold War on multiple fronts. Although we may associate the Vietnam War with the Johnson and Nixon administrations, the seeds of war were planted under JFK. Dive into the world of palace intrigue, grand strategy, domino theory, and an unofficial coup in South Vietnam.

31 min
The Fateful Visit to Texas

11: The Fateful Visit to Texas

Much has been written about JFK’s assassination, but Professor Shelden takes a different approach to this tragic story. Why was Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963? As you will discover, the world of Texas politics had split—and threatened his reelection bid. Get a front-row seat in the petty political dramas that preceded the shot from Lee Harvey Oswald.

30 min
The Mythos of Camelot

12: The Mythos of Camelot

In this final lecture, reflect on the legacy of President Kennedy as a flawed King Arthur in a mythical Camelot. After the shooting, the actions of Lyndon Johnson and Jacqueline Kennedy prepared America for the next chapter of history. The course ends by revisiting the beginning and the question that intrigues us still: Who was John F. Kennedy?

32 min