Originally released November 2013, updated edition November 2023

"The Gunman and His Mother"

Lee Harvey Oswald, Marguerite Oswald, and the Making of an Assassin

For most of us, the story of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy depicts Lee Harvey Oswald as a convenient cliche or a conspiracy puppet, Lone Gunman or Framed Patsy. Lost among the competing theories of villainy and cover-up is the real Lee Harvey Oswald, a troubled young man from a fractured family, a lonely child born without a future.

In this original and dramatic work, Steven Beschloss draws on a rich but relatively unmined public record, key interviews with Marguerite and other family members, and Lee's own writing and statements to trace the origin of an American tragedy.

He was a quiet boy who loved to stare at the stars. She was a bossy woman who always felt broke. He loved to ride the subways, skip school, go to the zoo. She was desperate and itinerant, forced to put her three kids into a New Orleans orphanage. He was a heavy reader, a homebody; she an oppressive and volatile figure. Both felt the world owed them better, and both carried a grudge that never softened. He was Lee Harvey Oswald and she his mother Marguerite. 

Find one adapted excerpt in The New Republic, another in The Smithsonian, a radio interview on New York's WNYC Morning Edition, author interviews with Thin Reads and BlogHer, and "10 Things You Didn't Know about Lee Harvey Oswald" at Thought Catalog.

From Chapter One:

This was his moment, the fulfillment of the Grand Plan. He had worked it out in his head: this would be his new beginning, a world where he could not be harmed, where workers were not treated like slaves, where there was no mother to bother him, and he could become the historical figure he knew he was. He was only twenty, a boy, a scared and lonely one, in fact, who barely left his hotel room upon landing in the capital of the Soviet Union.

It was October 21, 1959, less than a month after U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower had hosted Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev at Camp David, creating a momentary thaw in relations between the two Cold War adversaries. Lee Harvey Oswald had arrived in Moscow the week before on October 16, determined to toss away his life in America forever. With the help of his Intourist interpreter Rimma Shirokova, he had sent his request for citizenship to the Supreme Soviet:  “I do not want to return to any country outside of the Soviet Union,” he wrote by hand. “I am willing to give up my American citizenship and assume the responsibilities of a Soviet citizen.”

It was all perfectly clear, except it wasn't. A terrible hitch—the officials said no to his request, told him they would not extend his visa that expired that day, and immediately booked him a train out of Russia.  He would be alone in a hotel room in Moscow. Room number 320, Hotel Berlin. A dead-end...



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 "If you want to understand how Lee Harvey Oswald became the desperate and delusional man the world met on 11/23/63, Steven Beschloss's 'The Gunman and His Mother' is the book to read. Haunting and compelling, it reads like a Greek tragedy."

– Ralph Pezzullo, author of Jawbreaker
and Inside Seal Team Six

"Who was Lee Harvey Oswald? What brought him to Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963? In this groundbreaking volume, Steven Beschloss provides intriguing answers.  By conducting an in-depth inquiry into Oswald’s upbringing and early adulthood, the author provides new insight into the character of the man who murdered a president.  An important contribution to our understanding of a day that changed American history."

– Michael Takiff, Author of A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him and Brave Men, Gentle Heroes: Fathers and Sons in World War II and Vietnam