12/08/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
by Seymour M. Hersh
Reading The Dark Side of Camelot is like meeting an acquaintance who just can't wait to tell us the hot new gossip. In the very first chapter of his exposé-history of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, prizewinning investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh offers a sort of tasting menu of the juiciest bits: JFK's frail health, his compulsive womanizing, his Mafia connections. Based on candid interviews and transcripts and tapes that Hersh claims were previously secret, the book confirms old rumors (Kennedy's affair with Marilyn Monroe) and purports to introduce new information on his long bout with venereal disease (chlamydia) and a brief first marriage to a Palm Beach socialite.
What's far more troubling—and less often mentioned in the publicity surrounding the book, which critics have accused of malice and distortion—are its allegations of JFK's approval of covert CIA operations in Cuba, Africa and Vietnam, and about the Mafia's role in his political career. These sections add up to an alarming portrait of the Kennedy Presidency, but one ultimately diluted by the prurient, trivial, censorious detailing of tacky liaisons and skinny-dipping parties in the White House pool. (Little, Brown, $26.95)