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A Very Private Woman : The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer Hardcover – October 6, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (October 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553106295
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553106299
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,033,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On October 12, 1964, socialite Mary Meyer was shot to death along a wooded path where she was taking her afternoon walk. Ordinarily such a crime wouldn't attract the attention of the CIA's head of counterintelligence, but Meyer was no ordinary Washington socialite. Born into a wealthy, bohemian family in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Meyer studied at Vassar, worked as a journalist during World War II, married--and later divorced--a war hero, became a proto-feminist, experimented with drugs, and had an affair with John F. Kennedy. When Meyer decided to try LSD, she didn't get it from some random dealer and trip in the park. Instead she turned to Timothy Leary himself--and, evidence suggests, she might have eventually shared her stash with the President of the United States.

Shortly after Meyer was found dead, her diaries were spirited away: her brother-in-law, Ben Bradlee, turned the documents over to the aforementioned CIA official, James Jesus Angleton, believing that it was in her, and others', best interest that her secrets die with her. A Very Private Woman pieces together some of these secrets, and hints at many more. It's a compelling story not only of a woman who lived at the edges of power, influence, and history, but who lived in and was buffeted by some of the most significant cultural changes of the second half of the 20th century. --Lisa Higgins

From Publishers Weekly

This past July, freelance journalist Burleigh confessed, in the pages of Mirabella, to playing footsie with Clinton on Air Force One. Later, in a Washington Post story, she publicly offered to fellate the president "to thank him for keeping abortion legal." Contrast this with the politesse of Burleigh's subject, Mary Meyer, who was able to conduct an affair with President Kennedy and still get invited to dinner by Jackie. If Burleigh didn't learn discretion from her study, she still does an admirable job of conveying both the restrictive milieu of official Washington in the 1950s and early '60s (at least where women were concerned) and the personality of one woman who was, for a time, able to dictate the terms of her own life. She was born Mary Pinchot to a prominent Pennsylvania family in 1920 and, after attending Vassar, married Cord Meyer, a natural politician who resigned himself to a life behind the scenes. Burleigh repeats allegations, first published over 20 years ago, that Mary Meyer turned JFK on to marijuana and quite possibly LSD. Other notables in the book include abstract artist Ken Noland, who was Mary's lover; CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton; acid guru Timothy Leary; and Mary's brother-in-law, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who was instrumental in destroying Mary's diary after her 1964 murder. Though the title bills Mary's murder as "unsolved," Burleigh is forced to conclude that the man brought to trial, Raymond Crump, is the likeliest suspect and was acquitted because a spirited defense caught the prosecution off guard. Despite the absence of new information on the conspiracy front, Burleigh's biography is an excellent study of both its subject and its time.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Nina Burleigh is the author of five books including the New York Times bestseller, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox. To research the definitive story of the Amanda Knox trial, Burleigh lived in Perugia, corresponded with the three defendants, interviewed Italian authorities and dozens of close friends and families of the accused. She and her husband photographer Erik Freeland enrolled their two children in the town school, and had many adventures.
Her other books include Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land; Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt; The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams and the Making of America's Greatest Museum, the Smithsonian; and A Very Private Woman: The Life and Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer.
Mirage, published in 2008 by Harper Collins, was selected by the New York Times as an editors' choice and won the Society of Women Educators' Award in 2008.
Burleigh was born and educated in the Midwest, has traveled throughout the United States and extensively in the Middle East and lived in Italy and France. As a journalist, she has covered American politics, the White House and Congress for Time and reported and wrote human interest stories at People Magazine from New York. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
She writes a column for the New York Observer and her feature articles on a wide variety of topics have been published in the New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, New York and Bloomberg's Businessweek, Elle, and many other journals. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, CBS 48 Hours, various programs on CNN, C-Span, as well as NPR and countless radio outlets.

Customer Reviews

Interesting read for sure.
Verbena Reverb
This book is worse than any policy review or textbook I have ever had to read.
yan
(Perhaps that is not quite fair.
Linda T

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 61 people found the following review helpful By D. C. Carrad on November 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You would think that given the subjects of a mistress of JFK, the CIA, the Washington art world, high society in the 1920's and 30's, political intrigue, etc. that it would be difficult to write a dull book. You would think so, but the author has succeeded -- if that is the right word -- in doing just that. This book is callow, trite and flawed in almost every respect. The author shallowly misunderstands every one of the subjects listed above and the history of the 1950's too. Her leaden prose and tin ear don't help. This is a dreadful mix of politically correct staitjacked thinking and PEOPLE magazine style fascination with the lives of people the author does not understand. It is a shame this book was published, as the underlying story is a fascinating one, and all this book will do is postpone the publication of a decent book that does justice to the subject. Mary Pinchot Meyer deserved a better biography than this, and I hope someday someone else will write it...
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By L. Dann on February 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mary Pinchot Meyer's life and death occurred within the apex of American old money and power. That power, politically and ideologically was no where more penetrating than within the intelligence community. The'Company,' where her previously idealistic and later reactionary husband worked, has been implicated in nefarious, double dealings since that time and Cord Meyer was at the top of its chain. His was the brainstorm that invented student dissident groups, staffing it with agents and keeping tabs on my generation's protests. His best friend was the infamous James Jesus Angleton. Angleton took posession of Mary's diary hours after she died.
The first part of the book, the graced childhood, Brearley/Vassar educations and the social connections that the beautiful Mary enjoyed was for me the most interesting. This fascination remained steady through the early days of her marriage to Cord Meyer, their relationship to the World Federalists a group of high-minded world- government idealists, and the decline of their affections and left leaning beliefs.
Mary's relations with the Washington Elite were also revelatory. Especially little known facts of the iconic Ben Bradlee's tell all relations with the CIA. Women were marginalized and often depressed- Mary was psychoanalyzed by the famous Dr. Oller, a follower of Wilhelm Reich. These well-educated and often gifted women toyed with art Gurdjieffian mystecism and many divorced after numbing and endless affairs. Mary Meyer was not unique in her adulterous and monied travels; but her relation to Timothy Leary, (also a CIA confidant at times) and her status as JFK's rare female friend as well as occassional mistress casts a different perspective on the otherwise sex-addicted president.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A reader on July 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The story of Mary Pinchot Meyer is a lot more interesting than this book. Occasionally, the author tries to recreate scenes and conversations on a pretty slim set of facts, supposing what may have motivated very private people she never met.

Oh, and Dean Acheson was not *Under-Secretary* of State! Did this woman read anything about diplomacy, the Cold War, or Washington society between 1940 and 1965? How could she and her copy editor not know that Dean Acheson was our Secretary of State, and a major figure in post-war Washington?

Washington was a very exciting place to be -- but you won't get the full description of those times in this book. too bad.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book doesn't answer some intriguing questions: Who killed Mary Meyer? What was the motive? What did Mary Meyer feel about her lover, John Kennedy, and his assassination? The author does take the subject seriously and gives Mary Meyer the respect she deserves. However, this book creates more questions than answers.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Wrap up high-society of the '20s and '30s with the Kennedy years, the racial tensions of the early `60s, and a little flavor of the art world, and then sprinkle in a few conspiracy theories, the CIA, and a murder, put it all against a paranoiac backdrop of the cold war atmosphere, and then finally, for good measure, give it a dash of Timothy Leary and the drug culture (oh, and presidential sex too) - and you've got ... well, the potential for quite a mess. You also have the framework of the Mary Meyer story, and in less capable hands it could easily have taken on the tone of a melodramatic soap opera. But if there is one thing that Burleigh can be complimented on, it is her evenhandedness in discovering and examining the actual facts. Exhaustively researched (don't skip the footnotes on this one, they're fascinating in themselves) and carefully crafted, Burleigh gives a well balanced account of a life during turbulent, if not down right chaotic, times.
Readers might be disappointed that there is no tidy conclusion, but, then, that's real life. And what Burleigh delivers is the quite remarkable story of one woman who emerges from the label of housewife and hostess to stake out an identity of her own.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By cannon2972@aol.com on September 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Mary Meyer's murder was one of the great post-JFK assassination mysteries. Nina Burleigh has entered a highly complex and frightening world to try to unravel the layers of lovers and spies. In doing so she has painted a picture of how the elite led bizarre lives from the 1920s to the 1960s. I found this book a great read about an intriguing, independent woman who cast her spell over friends in high places and haunted them long after her death.
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