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Issue 16 – Easter 2023

Arts and Letters

Unraveling the Riddle

Assume Nothing: Encounters with Assassins, Spies, Presidents, and Would-Be Masters of the Universe

Edward Jay Epstein 

Encounter Books, pp. 392, $36.99


When I was growing up, I loved puzzles and brain games of all kinds, so, looking back on it now, it doesn’t surprise me that I was tickled from an early age by the allure of apprehending a mystery. I would not have described it this way at the time, of course, but much of my youthful reading and moviegoing was guided by the fun I found in piecing together an answer to something. I was a devotee of Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, and, especially, Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, which I first saw when I was nine and which has ever since entranced me—if that’s the right word for it, and I think it is.

I make no claims for that dubious but artful film’s historical accuracy or even plausibility, but I can see why I was swept away by it even at what was admittedly an improbably precocious age: not only did this dramatization of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s admittedly tendentious attempt to suss out the plot that killed President Kennedy take place in my adopted home state—I spent much of my youth in Louisiana, which, as the state that gave us Huey Long and Edwin Edwards, richly earned its reputation as a banana republic—but there was something appealing, even comforting, in the notion that such a plot could be sussed out in the first place.

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About the author

Peter Tonguette

Peter Tonguette writes for the American Conservative, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, and many other publications.