By Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann (Carroll & Graf, 904 pages, $33)
Progressive Portland radio talk-show host Thom Hartmann has co-authored the ne plus ultra of conspiracy books about the JFK assassination. At a doorstopping 900-plus pages, Ultimate Sacrifice presents enough speculation mixed with fact to fill at least three books. Part I reveals in convincing detail a covert U.S. plan led by Bobby Kennedy to use Cuban exiles to assassinate Fidel Castro and invade Cuba, with full U.S. military backing if necessary, in December 1963. Part II describes how the Mafia, led by mob bosses Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante and Johnny Rosselli, infiltrated the Cuba coup plan, purportedly to compromise U.S. officials into suppressing a thorough investigation of JFK's murder, which the godfathers later organized. Part III discloses two heretofore overlooked or unknown plots to kill Kennedy in Chicago and Tampa, Fla., which bore several similarities (a sniper or snipers with scoped rifles were to fire on the president's motorcade) to his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Whether you agree or disagree with the authors' theories, it's impossible to ignore this book as an important counterpoint to Gerald Posner's 1993 book Cased Closed, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting the president. Marshaling reams of newly declassified documents, interviews with surviving participants, and stray puzzle pieces from other researchers, the authors have compiled an imposing mass of scholarship on the 1963 coup plan and the Mafia's interest in it. Where Ultimate Sacrifice is ultimately unconvincing, though, is in linking the mob's penetration of the coup plan to JFK's assassination. The Mafia would have had plenty of reasons to want to help overthrow Castro, none of which necessarily involved killing Kennedy: For one thing, the coup would have let Marcello, Trafficante and Rosselli in on the ground floor to regain control of organized crime in Cuba. Kennedy's murder actually hindered that, because plans to invade Cuba were dropped after JFK's death. The book's treatment of the assassination itself, at a scant 16 pages, is an incoherent mess, rehashing the usual hooey about unidentified gunmen, shots from the grassy knoll and "magic bullet" theories, without incontrovertibly linking the mob to the scene of the crime. The authors try repeatedly to show Oswald being manipulated by "mob associates" to take the fall for Kennedy's murder, but almost everyone mentioned in this book, including Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe, is described as a mob associate.
If Ultimate Sacrifice sold a copy every time the authors use phrases like "could have," "may have" or "it's possible that," it would be a runaway New York Times bestseller.
Co-author Thom Hartmann hosts the morning show weekdays from 6-9 am on KPOJ 620 AM.