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In April 1962, President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted 49 Nobel Prize winners - along with many other prominent scientists, artists, and writers - at a famed White House dinner. Among the guests were J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was officially welcomed back to Washington after a stint in the political wilderness; Linus Pauling, who had picketed the White House that very af In April 1962, President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted 49 Nobel Prize winners - along with many other prominent scientists, artists, and writers - at a famed White House dinner. Among the guests were J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was officially welcomed back to Washington after a stint in the political wilderness; Linus Pauling, who had picketed the White House that very afternoon; William and Rose Styron, who began a 50-year friendship with the Kennedy family that night; James Baldwin, who would later discuss civil rights with Attorney General Robert Kennedy; Mary Welsh Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's widow, who sat next to the president and grilled him on Cuba policy; John Glenn, who had recently orbited the earth aboard 'Friendship 7'; historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who argued with Ava Pauling at dinner; and many others. Actor Frederic March gave a public recitation after the meal, including some unpublished work of Hemingway's that later became part of the 'Islands in the Stream.' Held at the height of the Cold War, the dinner symbolizes a time when intellectuals were esteemed, divergent viewpoints could be respectfully discussed at the highest level, and the great minds of an age all might dine together in the rarefied glamour of "the people's house." ©2018 Joseph A. Esposito (P)2019 Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books


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In April 1962, President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted 49 Nobel Prize winners - along with many other prominent scientists, artists, and writers - at a famed White House dinner. Among the guests were J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was officially welcomed back to Washington after a stint in the political wilderness; Linus Pauling, who had picketed the White House that very af In April 1962, President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted 49 Nobel Prize winners - along with many other prominent scientists, artists, and writers - at a famed White House dinner. Among the guests were J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was officially welcomed back to Washington after a stint in the political wilderness; Linus Pauling, who had picketed the White House that very afternoon; William and Rose Styron, who began a 50-year friendship with the Kennedy family that night; James Baldwin, who would later discuss civil rights with Attorney General Robert Kennedy; Mary Welsh Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's widow, who sat next to the president and grilled him on Cuba policy; John Glenn, who had recently orbited the earth aboard 'Friendship 7'; historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who argued with Ava Pauling at dinner; and many others. Actor Frederic March gave a public recitation after the meal, including some unpublished work of Hemingway's that later became part of the 'Islands in the Stream.' Held at the height of the Cold War, the dinner symbolizes a time when intellectuals were esteemed, divergent viewpoints could be respectfully discussed at the highest level, and the great minds of an age all might dine together in the rarefied glamour of "the people's house." ©2018 Joseph A. Esposito (P)2019 Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books

30 review for Dinner in Camelot: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House

  1. 4 out of 5

    KOMET

    Prior to reading "DINNER IN CAMELOT: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House", the most I knew of this most unique dinner which took place on the evening of Sunday, April 29, 1962 was from a now famous statement President Kennedy made there. It is as follows: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferso Prior to reading "DINNER IN CAMELOT: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House", the most I knew of this most unique dinner which took place on the evening of Sunday, April 29, 1962 was from a now famous statement President Kennedy made there. It is as follows: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." One of my high school U.S. history teachers first made me aware of that quote, which left a deep impression that hasn't left me after almost 40 years. Joseph A. Esposito has taken considerable care in reconstructing for the reader what that White House dinner was like - down to the various personalities (e.g. Linus & Ava Helen Pauling; Dr. Ralph Bunche, the first African American recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the UN in negotiating the 1949 armistice between Israel and the Arab States; J. Robert Oppenheimer - the father of the atomic bomb - for whom this dinner marked the beginning of his political rehabilitation after having had his security clearance stripped away from him in 1954; the poet Robert Frost; the widow of Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway; the literary personages Mr. and Mrs. Lionel & Diana Trilling; Pearl Buck; William & Rose Styron - who later became close friends of the Kennedys; the writer and social critic James Baldwin; and the astronaut John Glenn) in attendance. The book also has the complete seating plan for the dinner, which took place in the State Dining Room (where President Kennedy presided at the lead table, # 7) and the Blue Room (where the First Lady, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, sat at the lead table, # 17) - in addition to several photographs that were taken at the dinner itself. They help to recapture, in a large sense, an America that was sure of itself and its place in the world despite the perils and challenges of the time, and the essence of a President and First Lady who encouraged a flowering of the arts and sciences among all Americans - as well as inspiring people to be and do better for themselves and humanity. I absolutely enjoyed reading "DINNER IN CAMELOT" which I think will serve in years to come as the main source for anyone wanting to know more about this unique and seminal event in 20th century U.S. history. It may also remind the reader that it is possible for the U.S. to extricate itself from the polarization and toxic national politics that bedevils us in the present time. For we live in a nation that has had many ups and downs since its inception in 1789 - and managed to, at various times, to embrace "the better angels" of its spirit and character. Let "DINNER IN CAMELOT" remind the reader that We the People can work together anew to make a better nation for ourselves and future generations through encouraging a renewed appreciation for the arts and sciences.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stan Prager

    Review of: Dinner in Camelot: The Night America’s Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House, by Joseph A. Esposito by Stan Prager (11-18-18) “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone,” President John F. Kennedy famously remarked with his characteristic wit and charm the night of April 29, 1962 when he ho Review of: Dinner in Camelot: The Night America’s Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House, by Joseph A. Esposito by Stan Prager (11-18-18) “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone,” President John F. Kennedy famously remarked with his characteristic wit and charm the night of April 29, 1962 when he hosted a remarkable gathering of forty-nine Nobel Prize winners and assorted writers, artists, scientists and intellects. More than fifty-six years later—and nearly fifty-five years since JFK was murdered—it seems almost impossible to believe that the America of that era and the White House of that evening ever existed. That is less because of the presence or absence of Kennedy—both the mythical icon and the admirable yet flawed man who walked the earth—than it is because of us, of what we have become. That dinner was symbolic of a time when science and expertise and the arts were respected, even cherished, and that in itself is a cruel juxtaposition to our own moment when as a nation we embrace charlatans and blatantly celebrate ignorance. It is the mark of a great historian to locate a single moment in time containing an outsize if overlooked significance and focus a narrow lens upon it; it is the mark of a great author to transform that snapshot into a full-length portrait that is at once interesting, informative, and even inspiring. With Dinner in Camelot: The Night America’s Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House, Joseph A. Esposito demonstrates that he is worthy of both superlatives. In one slim but dense volume, Esposito artfully weaves together the collective stories of the notables who attended, of the young President, just a bit more than a year into his term, of the elegant and beautiful First Lady, of the staff behind the scenes, of the event and its import, and even the architecture and décor of the twin event venues, the State Dining Room and Blue Room in the White House. The attendees were what we would in contemporary idiom dub the “rockstars” of their fields in their day, and looking back it seems fully extraordinary that such a gathering ever really took place with all of them actually in one place at the same time. Dinner in Camelot opens with a peculiar scene that is highly significant as a reflection of the United States of America, then and now: hours before dinner was served, one of the most famous guests, Linus Pauling—Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry and peace activist—joined a passionate crowd outside picketing the White House to lobby for a nuclear test ban treaty. Later that evening, in the receiving line, the First Lady chided Pauling for upsetting their daughter Caroline with his protest. The President was hardly thrilled with Pauling’s agitation either, although he mostly kept it to himself, but it is striking that Pauling was nevertheless welcomed to the dinner and treated with the appropriate respect due to a man of his stature. No one questioned his right to be part of that demonstration. Another eminent scientist in attendance that evening was J. Robert Oppenheimer, known popularly as the "father of the atomic bomb," who had gone on from his great accomplishments to have his security clearance revoked as he fell victim to the excesses of McCarthyism. This dinner was the first step back on the road to his rehabilitation. Oddly enough, Pauling and Oppenheimer had once been very close friends, but had a falling out years earlier when the latter made a clumsy play for Pauling’s stunning wife. Among scientists, however, the real “rockstar” that night would have been astronaut John Glenn, who just two months before had become the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn was seated at Jackie Kennedy’s table that evening. Spouses were not seated together at this dinner. The foreward to Dinner in Camelot was written by poet and writer Rose Styron, who sat a different table that evening from her husband, William Styron, who was not yet the celebrated novelist he was to later become. But there were plenty of authentic literary legends in attendance, including Pearl Buck, John Dos Passos, Katherine Anne Porter, power couple Lionel and Diana Trilling, and especially the iconic eighty-eight-year-old poet Robert Frost, who was not only seated at the President’s table that night but was among a select group invited to an after-dinner gathering at the Kennedy’s private quarters. Also at JFK’s table was Mary Hemingway, widow of Ernest Hemingway, who had committed suicide only nine months before. The noted actor Frederic March presented some of Papa’s unpublished work after dinner. Both Pearl Buck and Mary Hemingway took issue with aspects of Kennedy’s foreign policy, but only Mary spoke up, gently challenging the President on Cuba. Another literary figure at the dinner was African American author James Baldwin. Kennedy has often been criticized for not moving fast enough on Civil Rights, and while there may be some merit to that reproach, at the same time it should be noted how radical it was to a Southern audience in 1962 for a black man to break bread at the same table with white men and especially white women, this at a pivotal moment with steam gathering in the national struggle for Civil Rights and its widespread resistance by a stubbornly segregationist and solidly Democratic South—at a White House dinner hosted by no less than the President of the United States, who was a Democrat himself! When Booker T. Washington dined with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, the national outrage in its aftermath was so extreme that while T.R. defended the invitation he never repeated it; it was nearly thirty years before another black person was welcomed for dinner at the White House. In addition to Baldwin, African American diplomat and Nobel winner Ralphe Bunche was also a prominent guest that evening. The President was ever mindful of political realities and the road to re-election in ’64, but for the first time since Lincoln sat across from Frederick Douglass, the front door to the White House was truly open to African American guests. If we are going to apply the term “rockstar” in its twenty-first century parlance, then the real “rockstar” was John F. Kennedy, the young, handsome, articulate President who was in the spring of 1962 still slowly finding his way. 1961 had not gone well for him. He had pushed the button on a hare-brained Cuba scheme inherited from his predecessor that turned into the Bay of Pigs fiasco. A subsequent summit with the mercurial Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had left him beaten and bruised. Acquiescence to the construction of the Berlin Wall made Kennedy seem to many like an irresolute leader, although in retrospect it said more about the weakness of the Soviet system rather than the strength of the American one. No matter. Obstacles like these were not about to serve as roadblocks for a guy ever in ill-health who nonetheless schemed to get past the “4F” he had earned to gain naval command in World War II, who after his PT boat was sunk put raw courage and ingenuity to work to save his crew, including a harrowing four hour long, three-and-a-half mile swim to an island refuge while towing a badly injured crewman with a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth. Kennedy had a brilliant mind and a visceral sense of the world, and he learned well on the job. Perhaps his greatest challenge, the Cuban Missile Crisis, was six months ahead of him when he sat down with that incredible array of intellectual superstars that evening, but when that chilling time was upon him, he proved to be ready for it. Few who were alive during Kennedy’s brief tenure doubt that had he lived, much of what was to follow in American history after Dallas would have gone very, very differently. The night of the Nobel dinner, no one could have guessed that the charming, vibrant Kennedy had just a year and a half left on this earth. But that evening, he was the host of this amazing gathering of giants, and he too was a giant among them, whether he or any of his guests could have imagined that at that time. We all know that the “Camelot” in the book’s title—the name the grieving widow gave to the press for the Kennedy White House shortly after it was forever taken from us—was a myth, a tearful hyperbole, an imaginary glory. But was it? Was it really? Because we know now that the President had many affairs, that the President had many flaws, that the President made many mistakes … But … has there ever been a White House like the Kennedy White House? Could any of his successors have hosted a dinner like that? Probably not. But the truth is, since that date, no one has. The beauty of this wonderful book is that it is a collection of many different kinds of stories that all happen to coalesce on this one evening, at this White House, at this particular moment in American history. When we look back on JFK there is always a sense of a promise unfulfilled, but this dinner is an example of a real promise for America that was fulfilled; of a moment of real greatness when science and literature and the arts were not simply tolerated but embraced. What would Jack Kennedy—indeed what would any of the most notable of the attendees of that dinner—make of the current climate of the nation today … of the current occupant of the White House? Dinner in Camelot is not only a celebration of what once was, but a stinging rebuke of what currently is. I urge you to read this magnificent book as a means to both celebrate a past that has been lost to us and to inspire us to seek a future that better resembles that emblem of the past than the unfortunate specter of the present. Review of: Dinner in Camelot: The Night America’s Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House, by Joseph A. Esposito https://regarp.com/2018/11/18/review-...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Goddard

    What I enjoyed: Wonderful details about this evening, including how the seating was arranged, what was served and who attended. Puts the evening in the context of broader political issues of that year. Makes that moment in time come alive vividly. What I didn't enjoy as much: Too much repetition, with some stories told 2 or even 3 times, inexplicably (where was the editor?). For Kennedy buffs, a lot of rehashing of long-familiar information about JFK and JBK. Lots of wikipedia-style biographical What I enjoyed: Wonderful details about this evening, including how the seating was arranged, what was served and who attended. Puts the evening in the context of broader political issues of that year. Makes that moment in time come alive vividly. What I didn't enjoy as much: Too much repetition, with some stories told 2 or even 3 times, inexplicably (where was the editor?). For Kennedy buffs, a lot of rehashing of long-familiar information about JFK and JBK. Lots of wikipedia-style biographical profiles of attendees ("So-and-so as born in 19-- in the town of ----"). With many of the names of attendees unfamiliar to me, I quickly got confused about who was who and stopped paying attention to names. Seems like a lot of padding to get the story to a full book's length, with awkward justifications, like explaining how "from so-and-so's seat, he could have seen ...." to transition to some minor detail about decor at the White House in the early 1960s. Some errors that aren't critical but hurt credibility, like describing Mamie Eisenhower as not being very "fashion-conscious" (actually she was highly fashion conscious and regularly ranked on best-dressed lists, however dowdy people today might think of her). It was fun to see this one evening come alive in greater detail, but I'm not sure it deserved a full book-length treatment. The last chapter, with its nice summary of why the evening mattered, would have been sufficient. The story seems worth of a long magazine article, but not a full-length book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike Maher

    When I was given this book as a birthday present, I was thrilled as I collect books on the Kennedys but I could not figure out how there would be an entire book written on one dinner party even if that dinner party had 49 American Nobel prize winners and their spouses, the recent national hero John Glenn, who had just orbited the earth and many of the best writers in America. John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy were hosting this event in the middle of their term of bringing the New Front When I was given this book as a birthday present, I was thrilled as I collect books on the Kennedys but I could not figure out how there would be an entire book written on one dinner party even if that dinner party had 49 American Nobel prize winners and their spouses, the recent national hero John Glenn, who had just orbited the earth and many of the best writers in America. John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy were hosting this event in the middle of their term of bringing the New Frontier to the United States. This was Camelot, far from a utopia since there were significant issues clouding the picture: the racial unrest that would explode in a few years, the Vietnam tragedy that was in its early beginnings and the threat of mass annihilation due to nuclear war that would come to a head next year with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States has a history of partisanship that has caused major gridlocks so that nothing gets accomplished: currently, Social Security reform, gun control and health insurance reform are all prime examples. This Kennedy administration knew that it was ok to disagree but you did not have to be disagreeable. in fact, at least three people were picketing the White House for resuming nuclear testing only hours before attending this dinner. JFK did his best to push Democrat agendas; Republicans were sometimes criticized, even lampooned, but never demonized. He was a consensus builder, a person willing to listen to opposing views and willing to compromise. He appealed to the nobler instincts of the American people never inflicting the divisiveness and pessimism that is common today. The author spent three years writing this book and the dinner became the basis of an entire book because the rich, detailed research gave a better understanding of the importance of this dinner. The author does a very good job of providing the backgrounds of many of the key invitees. He notes that many of the introductions that happened that very night were the basis of many future accomplishments. I collect books and Kennedy because I believe, while he was far from perfect, he had the qualities of a great leader, something that has been missing in this country for a long time. Perhaps, Ronald Reagan has come closest. In any event, top members of both parties could learn quite a bit from the lessons of this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Robin-lisa Rosenberg

    This book is a must read for any Kennedy fan

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I cannot ever read enough about this fascinating subject, so I was delighted to discover this lovely book. While this book might be better suited for a reader new to the subject; and even though the author oftentimes repeated himself, I am still very glad I read it. I hope more books like this continue to be published for the younger generations. "Overall, the Kennedy White House believed that intellectual and creative attainment was something to be cherished and promoted, not envied or held in I cannot ever read enough about this fascinating subject, so I was delighted to discover this lovely book. While this book might be better suited for a reader new to the subject; and even though the author oftentimes repeated himself, I am still very glad I read it. I hope more books like this continue to be published for the younger generations. "Overall, the Kennedy White House believed that intellectual and creative attainment was something to be cherished and promoted, not envied or held in suspicion." (page 178)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Nice idea for a book carried out decently. Lots of information about the night JFK and Jackie hosted 49 Nobel Prize winners, mostly scientists, and invited guests who represented the literary world (James Baldwin, John Dos Passos, Katherine Anne Porter, William Styron among them). I particularly liked knowing who sat at which table. The weakness, not surprisingly given the title, is that Esposito buys fully into the Camelot myth of the Kennedy administration. For this night, that's defensible.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Clarke Gunter

    A wonderful trip down memory lane to a White House that valued intellect, science, and culture. A welcomed antidote to the current White House. I especially enjoyed the details about the dinner and the discussions about attendees Robert Oppenheimer, William Styron, and Robert Frost.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    It reads like he simply typed up his research notes, but it was a fascinating gathering. It also provides a stark reminder of how intellectually and culturally barren the current White House is.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    https://wp.me/p10jBT-1pg https://wp.me/p10jBT-1pg

  11. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    https://ucplbookchallenge.blogspot.co... https://ucplbookchallenge.blogspot.co...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Garguilo

    Thoroughly enjoyable insight into one remarkable dinner in Kennedy's White House. There was some repetition of facts about some of the attendees but, aside from that, a nice read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diane B

    Very detailed account of the 'Brains' dinner, when JFK and Jackie entertained some of the best and brightest at the newly refurbished White House. It is probably hard to underestimate how smitten people would have been with this couple. The dinner is recounted with painstaking detail. Who attended, who sat at which table, what they wore, what they said to one another, slights, gossip and awkward pauses. Right down to the views people would have had out the windows from where they were seated. The Very detailed account of the 'Brains' dinner, when JFK and Jackie entertained some of the best and brightest at the newly refurbished White House. It is probably hard to underestimate how smitten people would have been with this couple. The dinner is recounted with painstaking detail. Who attended, who sat at which table, what they wore, what they said to one another, slights, gossip and awkward pauses. Right down to the views people would have had out the windows from where they were seated. The menu is recounted to some extend, but it isn't the food as much as the personalities that filled the room. Underneath it all a soft lament that this was a golden age, and the likes of this dinner held decades ago was never repeated.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Will

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Lynn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Steve Walker

  17. 5 out of 5

    Denise Dorn

  18. 5 out of 5

    James Maloney

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Schober

  20. 5 out of 5

    David L.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christopher D’Arcy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Virginia

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gary

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gerard Moloney

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

  27. 5 out of 5

    Arianna Anaya

  28. 4 out of 5

    Machelle

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rob Brethouwer

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bob

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