Consumer Reviews from Amazon.com
"I picked it up one evening and finished it the very next day, only putting it down to sleep. "
- Brianna Atkins
"Before you vote, I hope you will read this book. "
- Sharon D. Podolsky
"I look forward to the next book in the series. "
- Thomas F. Lang
October 25, 2011
Excellent book, anxiously awaiting the next one! Educational and interesting! It's so hard to imagine what Bertie went through for his country, truly inspirational and movie worthy! Highly recommended!
A Must Read!!
November 30, 2011
By Sharon D. Podolsky
This book is riveting from beginning to end. The insights into this volatile time, the realization that had cooler heads not prevailed we might all have been annihilated, is stunning. After reading this book, I view the media and all we hear and see from them in a completely different manner. Every American needs to know the information in this book, information given by a brave man who is still, quite clearly, fighting for what is good and true in his country and the world. I am on pins and needles for the next volume to be released! I more than highly recommend reading this book - I think it should be required reading for every American citizen and suggested reading for others around the world! Before you vote, I hope you will read this book. You will realize that true intelligence, understanding of the world and its complexities and compassion for people are more than simply positive traits, they are absolute requirements for holding the office of President of the United States. Anyone glossing over the importance of these attributes is not living in the real world. This is one of the best books I have ever read. Buy it and enjoy it!
Jersey Girl Book Reviews
May 25, 2012
Back Channel: The Kennedy Years is an eye-opening memoir about the Kennedy administration from an insider's view. This fascinating book is the first in a series of nine books documenting the author's position as Special Assistant to nine U.S. Presidents (JFK to George W. Bush), and the events that went on during each of their administrations.
In this first book, Back Channel: The Kennedy Years, Mr. MacFarland documents the beginning of his career in the U.S. government when he was recruited for the CIA in his junior year at Duke University, through the assassination of JFK and the transition to the LBJ administration. Bertie Mac provides the reader with an insider's view into the workings of the highest level of the U.S. government, and backs its up with supporting documentation that is now declassified. This riveting accounting of the Camelot time period in U.S. history is jammed packed with intriguing intelligence stories and accounts like The Bay of Pigs, The Cuban Missile Crisis, Policy Disputes (Domestic and Foreign), Civil Rights legislation, friction with LBJ (as JFK's VP), Vietnam briefings, and JFK's assassination and conspiracy theories.
As a history buff and fan of everything JFK and Camelot, I absolutely loved Bertie Mac's powerful recollections of his position and friendship with JFK and the Kennedy clan. His chapters on Camelot (Chapter 3) and Hyannis Port (Chapter 6) was a fascinating but bittersweet recollection of the best and brightest time period in American history.
Back Channel: The Kennedy Years is a history lesson for the American public that they would have never received if this memoir wasn't written. It is an astonishing look into the "real" inner workings of what goes on in our government behind closed doors and out of the public's eyes. If the reader takes away anything from reading this book, it is that the information that the American public receives from our government is just an optical illusion for what they want us to believe. I look forward to reading the other eight books in this series so I can compare how each Presidential administration was run.
Back Channel: The Kennedy Years is a simply stunning book, one that is a must read for every American citizen.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event.
Melissa Brown Levine
Independent Professional Book Reviewers
In book one of his memoirs, Back Channel: The Kennedy Years, author William Bertram MacFarland offers an intriguing account of his life as the Special Assistant to the President of the United States. MacFarland describes a life lived off the grid as a spy, presidential confidante, and an assassin. He includes extensive background information on historical events (including the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement) and discusses the tension that occurred behind the scenes between top officials in the Kennedy Administration.
MacFarland was recruited by the CIA as a college student. While on assignment in Moscow, he was apprehended by the KGB and detained in the infamous Soviet prison, Lubyanka. It was later confirmed that MacFarland had been traded for an American Cultural Attaché who was caught stealing classified Soviet military information. MacFarland was severely beaten during his time in the prison. This episode ultimately changed the course of his life. After being freed from Lubyanka by two Soviet generals, the author was returned to the United States with a message he was charged to deliver directly to the President of the United States. During his first meeting with John Kennedy, MacFarland discussed the concept of developing a "back channel" method of communication with the Soviet generals who rescued him to discuss the missiles the Soviets were amassing in Cuba.
After a full recovery from his massive injuries, MacFarland finds himself with a job in the White House and on a first name basis (in private) with the president. In addition to being Kennedy's eyes and ears during meetings with high ranking generals about Cuba, Vietnam, and other volatile matters, the president expected and demanded MacFarland's professional opinion. He writes candidly about his personal feelings concerning Kennedy's extra-marital affairs and the information that he collected about the White House officials he worked with including Bobby Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The accounts of attacks against MacFarland in the Soviet Union, Washington, D.C. and Vietnam are enthralling, but I found the author's report on Lyndon B. Johnson the most intriguing part of this book. His research and personal encounters with the vice-president paint a disturbing picture of Johnson. The author includes supplementary information in two appendices that support the stories he relays in the book.
MacFarland humanizes the members of the Kennedy Administration; especially the president, and sheds light on the enormous amount of stress that comes with the job.
Back Channel is an annotated history lesson that allows the reader a behind the scenes view of the Kennedy Administration. It is a fascinating start for what promises to be an enlightening series of books about past leaders of the United States and the man whose secret mission influenced their administrations. I highly recommend it.
Pacific Book Review
"At 12:30 p.m., three shots rang out from the Texas Book Depository facing Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas. The President had been assassinated. Not one of the shots was fired by Lee Harvey Oswald."
"Back Channel: The Kennedy Years" is fascinating for historians and novices alike. It is an autobiographical work by William Bertram MacFarland, "Bertie Mac," a man of numerous talents who worked intimately with John F. Kennedy and whose work was so covert, his name was often omitted, even in the most private of conversations. He was simply referred to as "Special Assistant." A ghost in name but an historically effectual agent. This is someone you've never heard of. An agent whose work was too classified to have even been given a label such as "agent." Thus, the seemingly innocuous and infinitely vague "Special Assistant" moniker was bestowed upon Bertie who more than worked the Back Channels; he was the Back Channel. Bertie was the quintessential agent/action hero but a humanist and therefore cursed with self-awareness.
The opening teaser above is clearly aimed at JFK conspiracy theorists, but this book is more broadly a memoir by one who called JFK his best friend. Give whatever credence you want to any particular historical analysis, any interpretation of history. Books like Zinn's A People's History of the United States aim to delegitimize traditionally accepted versions of history (as complete or absolutely true) by legitimating other perspectives. Historians and authors offer different perspectives on particular moments in history, but they tend to do so from positions outside of that history. Such scholarship is useful but perhaps can only be truly legitimized by a personal narrative from one who has been intricately involved in that history. This is what Back Channel is. It is a memoir but it is also an institutional analysis of overt, covert and personal interrelations of governments and, at the risk of sounding redundant, the politics of politics. In other words, what you get is a personal perspective of the personal and social mechanisms of transparent and invisible diplomacy.
This memoir chronicles Bertie's work as JFK's Special Assistant as a prelude to his career as a covert operative under nine presidents (supplemented by an appendix of administration documents and communications). Bertie's life is jump started after an "escape" from the infamous Russian Lubyanka prison, evidently the only ever to have done so. Subsequently, among many other operations, he became the unofficial channel between Kennedy and Khrushchev. A 'Back Channel,' which MacFarland claims to have coined during a 1962 conversation with JFK, is covert method of communication between nations: under the radar of the media and under the radar of formal or official international relations.
This was quite an interesting and entertaining read, somewhat of a personalized Jason Bourne. The lasting impression was the personal and philosophical perspectives on Kennedy and some historically significant moments of his era; namely, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the assassination of JFK.