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Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 7, 2010

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Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books + Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

During the last two decades of her life, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis worked on nearly 100 books with varying degrees of responsibility as an editor, first at Viking--she resigned after being castigated by the New York Times about a Viking thriller with a Ted Kennedy–like protagonist as an assassination target--and then at Doubleday, which promised to avoid any similar embarrassments. Her love of dance led to Onassis publishing a biography of Fred Astaire and autobiographies of Martha Graham, Judith Jamison, and Gelsey Kirkland. Kuhn (The Politics of Pleasure: A Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli) is particularly dismissive of Kirkland and her then-husband/collaborator Greg Lawrence's bestselling tell-all accusing George Balanchine of cruelties; not coincidentally, Lawrence is the author of a competing book, Jackie as Editor. With biographies of Clara Bow and Jean Harlow, the quietly feminist Onassis insisted on getting beyond publicity photo images to tell a woman's true story, says Kuhn. Being seen as royalty herself as the widow of JFK, the often imperious Onassis commissioned more than a dozen books on the royalty of India, ancient Egypt, Versailles, and Romanov Russia. Although this lucid, amply detailed catalogue of Onassis's publishing projects offers a window into her passions and opaque personality, it is far from what Kuhn dubs "the only autobiography she ever wrote"--most readers will not find it revelatory. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

In his prologue, Kuhn quotes John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s statement that his mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, was at the time of her death “surrounded by her friends and her family and her books.” Building on the theme that Jackie’s love of books and words helped define who this intensely private woman really was, he provides a biography of Jackie via the books she read and loved during the course of her richly complex personal life, and, more important, the books and authors she championed and nurtured as an editor in her professional life. The theme is an interesting one, though Kuhn perhaps takes it a bit too far, asserting that “her books are the autobiography she never wrote.” Hyperbole aside, analyzing Jackie’s editorial choices does provide a fascinating—albeit limited—glimpse into what moved her soul and motivated her choices. Voracious readers will relate to Jackie’s love of literature and appreciate this quasibiographical booklist. --Margaret Flanagan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; First Edition edition (December 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385530994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385530996
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,160,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a biographer and historian. Mrs Queen Takes the Train is my first novel. There are certain things a biographer or a historian just can't say, but a novelist can. I thought I'd give it a whirl.

You might be interested in a conversation of Mrs Queen's recently overheard at Balmoral. It's about the baby!

The Weinstein Company bought a film option on Mrs Queen and I can't wait to see what they do with the book. Will keep you posted!

Before this I wrote Reading Jackie about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's personality as revealed through the books she edited at Viking and Doubleday.

Everyone knows about the White House parties, the marriages, the pretty dresses and the yacht in Greece, but did you know about the woman whose greatest passion was for her books? In her declining months, she was still at work making suggestions to her authors from her sickbed.

Her publishing years lasted longer than her two marriages combined. She produced both hits and misses, but publishing professionals today still admire her list. Not bad for a career she only came to and learned in her mid 40s.

Mine is the first book ever commissioned by Doubleday on their former employee and many of her colleagues talk here for the first time. Nancy Tuckerman remembered taking Jackie down to the Doubleday cafeteria. Jackie loaded up her tray, breezed by the cash registers, and sat down at a table. Nancy joined her saying, "Did you pay Jackie?" "Oh," said Jackie, "Do you have to pay?"

I've also done books on Victorian prime ministers and the British monarchy.

I taught for more than twenty years at the college and university level, where the Social Science Research Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities both supported my research.

I hope you like my books! :-)

Here's a video of me talking about Jackie at the Boston Athenaeum:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Ficino on December 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I did not know what to expect when I opened this book, a gift from a close friend. All I knew about Jackie Kennedy Onassis was the clothes, the men, the tragedies that raised her life to the level of myth. Not a life that, honestly, I thought I wanted to read more about.

What a revelation William Kuhn's book is. By the end of the first chapter, describing in moving detail the last weeks of her life, I was hooked. This was a woman of imagination and courage, with a rich inner life that had nothing to do with paparazzi or parties. Like many intelligent people, Jackie was an artist manqué who lived vicariously by reading about other artists: dancers, writers, designers, musicians. And when she found herself alone, having to remake her life after the deaths of two husbands, she created a career in editing those books. And, she was no ornamental editor at Doubleday; she worked at it.

Kuhn is one of those great popular historians who writes so well, you don't notice you are turning page after page, not wanting to put the book down. He has interviewed dozens of people who worked with Jackie personally and who provide a kind of cultural history of the second half of the 20th century. You read about Rolling Stone and the American Ballet Theater and Martha's Vineyard and the Metropolitan Museum. Michael Jackson, Carly Simon, Diana Vreeland, Stuart Udall and Bill Moyers, whose book on the Power of Myth was so influential. There was even a book Jackie edited in which she inadvertently got mixed up with a Russian spy.

Jackie knew she could not escape her celebrity, but what Kuhn reveals is that she really believed in the notion of aristocracy in its best forms: the love and appreciation of beauty, taste, and manners.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Richard of Connecticut VINE VOICE on December 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The sensitivity, the magnetism, the very spirit of this book was extraordinary. Page by page you travel through the career of the most famous woman in the world for two generations. I have been told by people that knew them personally, that when Jackie walked into a function at the White House, she was absolutely radiant. Remember she was about 30 then, but a moment or two later when he would walk in, he was Hollywood handsome.

No casting studio could have selected a better couple to play themselves than themselves, that's how attractive they were as a couple, and the energy that flowed from them was something to behold. Then it was shattered in one ten second stretch of time. The young Prince was dead, and she had to carry on, pick up and make a life for herself and her children. When she was ready, a month later she came to New York to be physically independent of the Kennedy family, and begin life anew.

She had always loved books. The author makes the point in many ways that even at a very young age, books were a big part of her life. She had won a major internship based on an essay she had written while graduating college. It would have taken her to Paris to Vogue's Prix de Paris at the magazine's offices, but her mother fearing she would lose her, intervened, and it did not happen.

Her letters in the White House when they can be found are a work of art. Worldly, sensitive, glowing with images, this lady could write, and so in New York she became an editor. This was not a decision based on a whim. Jackie had she chosen, could have been a major literary presence in her own right.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By sparkster on December 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When William Kuhn, a biographer of prominent members of the Victorian Court, stumbled upon Jackie Onasis' list of publications, he was surprised and moved by the titles. Clearly he had found a kindred spirit, and his quest to try and unravel a piece of her story by analyzing her work as an editor is richly rewarding. The product is a biographical sketch of a professional life that even this very private woman would appreciate.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a captivating and iconic figure which makes her a great subject for a book. Known mainly for her role as wife to the powerful (JFK) and rich (Onassis) it's refreshing to read about her later life as an independent woman who supported herself by working as an editor. It's always a plus when a book gives you new ideas for reading possibilities and Kuhn's Reading Jackie added at least a page of Jackie-edited volumes to my Amazon wish list. A further bonus of this career centered biography are the fascinating portraits of many of the authors and subjects of those books, including photographers, politicians, cultural historians, and media stars like John Lennon, Michael Jackson, former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, mythologist Joseph Campbell and ballerina Gelsey Kirkland.

Also profiled is Greg Lawrence, who was Gelsey Kirkland's boyfriend at the time Jackie was editing Kirkland's book Dancing on My Grave. Lawrence has just published his own book about Jackie's life as an editor which is maybe why Kuhn is almost comically dismissive and writes particularly harshly about him.

Detracting from the reading experience for me is that Kuhn has a jarring tendency to quote someone or describe something and then interrupt the flow of his narrative with an, "in other words," to explain what is already clear. Also, Kuhn has written too much of the book in an expanded version of the five paragraph essay style that is taught to middle school students, stating and restating what he would like to prove and making sometimes improbable connections to support his thesis. Kuhn has written this book with the idea that there is a lot to be learned about Jackie's private feelings by looking at the list of books she edited, but sometimes he seems to be reaching too far.
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