This series of letters reveals a love of literature and public affairs shared by Mrs. Kennedy and McNamara for more than three decades. In the earliest letter, the First Lady thanks the Defense Secretary for sending her a book, and in return she sends him her "battered copy of The Lotus and the Robot—as you have such humility (?)—you remind me of George Romney, and I look forward to a long exchange of religious books with you." Published in 1960, Arthur Koestler's Lotus and the Robot examines the mystic traditions of two Asian cultures, Indian (the lotus) and Japanese (the robot).
On 2 July 1964, Mrs. Kennedy wrote to thank McNamara for two books he had sent her "for light summer reading": Barrabas by the Swedish novelist Pär Lagerkvist and something she cryptically refers to as "your book" (McNamara did not publish a book until 1968, and even so it was not necessarily for summer reading: The Essence of Security: Reflections in Office). "I would have read it from beginning to end—but I started at page 44—and that was the best place." She closes by sending her "inexpressible thanks for all you did this winter—which I will never forget."
The later letters acknowledge other presents from McNamara, including biographies of George Washington and inscribed copies of his own works as well. One of the notes covers the gift to McNamara of a biography of Mrs. Kennedy's "beloved cousin and godfather, Michael Bouvier.