Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books

Image of Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books
Release Date: 
December 6, 2010
Nan A. Talese
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Capturing seldom-seen facets of a world famous celebrity such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is not an easy task. That’s especially true when the subject’s private life was so craftily and purposefully protected, even after her death. Yet William Kuhn, an author whose most recent books include several covering 19 century British royalty, has become a detective and, in the process, offers readers an opportunity to peek underneath the “Camelot” cloak and see something new: a real mortal, every-day woman, revealed by how she dealt with words and books. Mr. Kuhn begins with the supposition that the public most often defines Jackie by the men she married, as a fragile, delicate and creative creature, living in their shadows. As each page in this “autobiography in books” is turned, it quickly becomes clear that although Jackie understood the importance of wealth, personal and public history, and protocol, she was most often viewed from her public persona (a young bride married to a rising Senator, a gracious White House hostess, a devastated yet duty-driven widow in a blood-stained pink suite, a mother lion protecting her cubs, a tycoon’s wife sailing near Greece). As those images faded with time (though they never completely disappeared), a professional with a strong work ethic, someone who knew how to put words together and how to nurture those who were experts at doing so, emerged. Essential was the drive to leave her mark, embracing important issues that mattered deeply to her and sharing them with the world through books. Each chapter tends to focus, through grouped subheadings, on elements of this extraordinary woman’s views and interests. Moving through these uncovers surprising layers, attitudes few outside her inner circle might know, revealing an incredible complex, sometimes insecure, “almost little girl-like” quality. And as her son, John, indicated after her death in 1996, in the end, “she was surrounded by her friends and her family and her books, the people and things that she loved.” One of his mother’s most essential characteristics had been “her love of words.” Both those who love words as Jackie did and those fascinated with her life will enjoy sifting through nearly 100 titles Jackie edited during her time at Viking and Doubleday with the author. Mr. Kuhn uncovers intriguing reflections of this very private lady’s personality and passions and, by highlighting of the titles Jackie edited from 1976 until 1996 (many of which have no printed acknowledgment of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s contribution or oversight), draws a sort of map to Jackie’s viewpoint on world affairs, her love of beauty in art and ballet, and even her fascination with royalty and her secret suffering—a map to the soul of a remarkable woman. The proposition Kuhn presents constantly is that, through these books, Jackie herself is telling readers “what she was thinking, what she was learning, and what was worth remembering.” In the end, perhaps that is the path Jackie chose, what she really wanted to do—to share books “she wanted to read and that she bet others would want to too.”