It has been a long time since I have read a non-fiction book that I could not put down. Maybe it is because it reads like the murder mysteries that I am partial to, or maybe because I could hear the author’s voice in every word. Whatever the reason, Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film was exquisite.
Written by the granddaughter of Abraham Zapruder, the book takes the reader through the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the home movie that was at the forefront of the investigation and countless conspiracy theories, and the impact on generations of the family who was unwittingly drawn into this national tragedy. Even though we all think we know what happened, and how it all ended, there are many surprises, twists and turns. The personalities of the family, law enforcement officials, journalists, lawyers, conspiracy theorists – anyone associated with this event – come through in this incredible story.
The book draws you in from the first page. Part memoir and part cultural history, Alexandra Zapruder lets us get to know her family, from their childhoods, their efforts to protect the film and the Kennedy family, and their decision to ultimately sell the film. As I read it, I was standing on the wall with Abraham Zapruder watching the motorcade. I was in the film processing store as the copies were made. I was at Time Life when the decisions were being made about whether or not to air the film. I felt that I was in the room for every major event that took place surrounding the strange and extraordinary path of this film.
What struck me the most were the outrageous blunders on the part of law enforcement in the early days of the investigation. Later, the odd decisions made by many journalists, lawyers, government officials, etc just go to show how complicated everything surrounding the film was at the time. Add in some conspiracy theorists, and you have a situation of life is stranger than fiction. I cannot even begin to imagine how fraught every decision about the film must have been for the Zapruder family.
Thoroughly researched, I came away from this book with a new understanding for America’s obsession with the assassination of President Kennedy, and the difficulty facing the Zapruder family in trying to maintain respect for the Kennedy family. Ms. Zapruder is an extraordinary story teller, and her telling of this part of her family’s story does not disappoint.
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