JFK, Speed-Reader  - Slate Magazine
HOME /  Articles  : 

JFK, Speed-Reader 

In his 1993 biography, President Kennedy: Profile of Power, Richard Reeves reveals the shaky origins of the Kennedy speed-reading legend. Apparently Eunice Shriver told Henry Luce at a dinner party that her brother had taken a speed-reading course and could read an entire book in one sitting. Luce, in turn, told Time's White House reporter, Hugh Sidey. Sidey called the place where JFK had taken the course and learned that he'd never finished it, so no score was available. Apparently eager to reap a little free publicity, however, the speed-reading outfit told Sidey that Kennedy probably read 700-800 words per minute. When Sidey ran that by JFK, though, Kennedy bristled and said that was too low; John Kenneth Galbraith, he insisted, had once clocked him reading a thousand words per minute. But even that, Kennedy said, was probably too low. "How about twelve hundred?" Sidey then asked. "OK," Kennedy answered. Time went with the 1,200 figure, which was widely repeated. (Reeves' source on all this is an interview with Sidey conducted in the early 1960s as part of the official oral history of the Kennedy administration.)