Gene Lyons
September 24, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Historically, Americans have long congratulated themselves for their dedication to plain facts and their commonsense suspicion of abstract theories. The reality, of course, is far less flattering to national self- esteem. We have always been suckers for a good conspiracy theory. Such all- American figures as William Jennings Bryan, Henry Ford, and J. Edgar Hoover rarely failed to find organized subversion wherever they looked, nor lacked for cheering throngs to support them. Even so, it is still remarkable that it has taken 30 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy for a book like Gerald Posner’s CASE CLOSED: LEE HARVEY OSWALD AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK (Random House, $25) to be written and published. Every conscientious citizen who has ever sat up half the night maundering over the elaborate speculations of conspiracy mavens like Mark Lane, Edward Jay Epstein, David S. Lifton, Robert Sam Anson, Anthony Summers, and Jim Marrs (those are only the most prominent), not to mention the millions who lined up to watch Oliver Stone’s brilliant 1991 propaganda film JFK, owes it to himself to give Posner’s book a careful reading. The result, safe to say, will come as a revelation. And, yes, as something of a relief. As thorough and incisive a job of reporting and critical thinking as you will ever read, Case Closed does more than buttress the much beleaguered Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald-pitiful, grandiose lone demento and would-be Communist defector- bore full and solitary responsibility for the murder of President Kennedy. It also indicts and pretty much convicts the entire JFK-conspiracy industry of sloppy research, shoddy thinking, special pleading, hysterical speculation, and downright dishonesty. More than that, Posner’s book is written in a penetrating, lucid style that makes it a joy to read. Even the footnotes, often briskly debunking one or another fanciful or imaginary scenario put forth by the conspiracy theorists, rarely fail to enthrall. How and why the Kennedy assassination has become such a happy hunting ground for opportunists and crackpots is not so hard to figure. Almost regardless of their political orientation, millions share the perception that American life has grown infinitely more difficult and confusing since that awful November afternoon in 1963. Also, as Posner writes, ”strong psychological reasons prompted the public’s early embrace of conspiracy theories. The notion that a misguided sociopath had wreaked such havoc made the crime seem senseless and devoid of political significance. By concluding that JFK was killed as the result of an elaborate plot, there is the belief he died for a purpose.” But piece by fascinating piece, Posner-a former Wall Street lawyer whose previous works include Warlords of Crime, a book about Chinese heroin smugglers, and a widely praised biography of Nazi death-camp doctor Joseph Mengele that he coauthored-takes the evidence in the Kennedy assassination apart and puts it back together. As the author himself points out, no mere mortal could tie up every last loose end. Even in an ordinary mugging in broad daylight, eyewitness accounts are apt to vary sharply. But will it come as news to readers persuaded otherwise by countless books, TV and radio documentaries, and films to learn that fully 88 percent of witnesses in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, testified to hearing exactly three shots? That computerized enhancement of the famous Zapruder film and sophisticated ballistics tests now prove that the renowned ”single bullet” that wounded both JFK and Texas governor John Connally is an incontrovertible fact? That many ”eyewitnesses” who supposedly saw all manner of strange goings-on that day either weren’t actually there, told very different (and more consistent) stories under oath before the media spotlight found them, or resided in psychiatric hospitals? The chapter on New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, the heroic lone-wolf prosecutor of Oliver Stone’s JFK-who before his mad quest ended had placed 16 assassins at five locations in Dealey Plaza-is by itself a masterpiece of expository journalism. Case Closed is a work of genuine patriotism and a monument to the astringent power of reason. A

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