Saturday, 31 May 2014

Capitol Limited by David R. Stokes – Book Review

Publisher’s Write-up:

‘Long before they famously debated each other during the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon debated the merits of the new Taft-Hartley labor law in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in April 1947. But their minds were clearly on bigger things.

As fate would have it, Kennedy and Nixon shared a Pullman compartment on a famous train called The Capitol Limited, the pride of the B&O Line, for an overnight trip back to Washington. They stayed awake all night talking about their lives, hopes, and visions for a better world. Capitol Limited is based on a very true story.

Bestselling Author David R. Stokes imagines how the conversation might have unfolded that long-ago night. Based on extensive research, and complete with a lengthy and unusual-for-a-novel biography, Capitol Limited gives readers the change to eavesdrop as two men have an animated conversation about history, world leaders, and the brewing geopolitical issues they would one day face as leaders of the free world.

It was the dawn of the Cold War, and these two formed naval officers were developing a vision for the world, one that would be “tempered by a hard and bitter peace”. And years later, the political torch would be passed to John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who represented “a new generation of Americans”. They would become America’s premier Cold Warriors.’

Capitol Limited is a book written by the American political commentator, broadcaster and columnist, David R. Stokes. It features the two newly elected members to the US House of Representatives post the Second World War, Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

The story begins with the news of Kennedy’s assassination and Nixon recollecting his past experiences with Kennedy. It goes back to 1947, when the two newly elected Congressmen had to visit the Pennsylvanian mining town, McKeesport for a debate on the Taft-Hartley Labour Bill. While the debate was hardly the highlight of the novel, it was the return journey of the two, back to Washington, from McKeesport, where they have a conversation over nearly every contemporary issue, personal, what is best for the country, the incidents around the world, Israel, the rise of communism in Eastern Europe, et cetera.
I was really keen on reading this novel since historical fiction is my favourite genre and I’m highly passionate about politics. Moreover, my knowledge on the political environment of The United States till 1990 is rather superficial especially on Richard Nixon, on whom I had known nothing about barring Watergate and him being the only American president to have resigned and despite that, I’ve been told by some of my American friends that he is the best President that they’ve ever been under; and hence, I thought this could be an excellent read. True to my expectations, I had an extremely well written and well-presented novel with adequate actual historical references (marked in bold and italics, during the course of the novel).

What I really liked about this novel was how he the author brought out as to how Nixon and Kennedy are different in every way barring the fact that they had both served in the navy but are still such close friends. Nixon and Kennedy had come from totally different backgrounds, while Kennedy was from a well to do family whereas Nixon had to struggle to come up the ranks and despite this, both of them represented political ideologies contradictory to their background which was brought out well during the debate at McKeesport. I also really loved the way in which the author had brought out the personality of both the future presidents, with Nixon being the shrewd dedicated politician who thoroughly researches on something before making any statement whereas Kennedy is more of a politician by accident relying more on his innate abilities as a journalist but living the dream of his deceased brother.  The friendship between the two of them was something really good, considering how it is nearly unimaginable today, especially when the rivals run such bitter campaigns, particularly the 2012 election between Obama and Romney.

The only thing that I found on the flipside was that, I found Kennedy to be someone too weak who was just trying to be a shadow of all the other world leaders he had met so far (like Churchill, where Kennedy was continually referring to Churchill’s mannerism to justify his own, including for eating a boiled egg!) whereas I believe the reality is far from it. Probably, I got under this notion because during the course of the novel, I agreed more with Nixon than Kennedy, owing to my personal capitalist views.

I’d conclude saying that this was an excellent retelling of a historical event clubbed with an excellent imagination and could be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in politics and considering the aforementioned points, I’d award this book a seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

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