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Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House Hardcover – May 4, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Smith, a Vanity Fair contributing editor (and biographer of Princess Diana and Pamela Harriman, among others), does a workmanlike job of narrating familiar scenes from the Kennedy White House, aka Camelot. Although publicity for this volume is at pains to emphasize that Smith has interviewed "scores of Kennedy intimates, including many who have never spoken before," the few new witnesses unearthed by Smith attended the same parties, concerts and picnics as all the other sources we've heard from in previous years. So once again Smith waltzes through portraits of the Kennedys entertaining, with greatly varying degrees of success, the likes of Gore Vidal, Ben Bradlee, William Walton and JFK's frequent "squeeze" Mary Meyer. Not a few of the people who loom large in Smith's volume (Bradlee, Theodore White, Paul "Red" Fay, Vidal, Lee Radziwill, Walton, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Dave Powers and Ken O'Donnell among them) have previously—as Smith's profuse footnotes attest—written their own accounts of the Camelot scenes in which they play. Endeavoring to interweave her somewhat redundant yet eloquently rendered social history with the political history of the Kennedy administration, Smith tends on occasion to oversimplify and understate major strategic discussions and initiatives, these being sketched much better in such books as Richard Reeves's President Kennedy. For those who seek yet another highly readable account of the White House milieu shaped by John and Jackie Kennedy—the place we've all gotten to know so well through the years—Smith's book does the job. 48 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Vanity Fair contributing editor Smith has written a glossy, gossipy, but serious account of the Kennedys’ White House Years. If you’re looking for analysis of the Bay of Pigs or Cuban missile crisis, turn to one of the other thousand Kennedy books (see below). Grace and Power, a social history of the Camelot couple, contains just enough political asides to interest history buffs. But Smith, a consummate researcher and reporter, focuses mainly on minutiae, from Jackie’s Cassini-designed wardrobe to her discussion with a doctor about foreplay techniques. Nonetheless, she presents a diverse array of characters, particularly Jackie, with flair and sophistication. One caveat: this book, notes the Washington Post, “should carry a warning label: ‘Not for those with a low tolerance for treacle.’”

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375504494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375504495
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,225,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I thought it was utterly impossible to say anything new about the Kennedys. But 10 minutes into this book, I was completely hooked. It takes the reader back to a different and more civilized time, when politics was last rancorous, when glamor was not politically incorrect, when government really was made up of the best and brightest.
Grace and Power delves deeply into Jack and Jackie Kennedy's public, private, and psychological lives. It shows their complex interactions with each other and the people around them, and in the process demonstrates that all politics is intensely personal.
JFK's promiscuity is explored not for the sake of titillation, but rather to explain the man and to explore the complicity of the press. The portrait of Jackie is the best that's ever been written. Her love for Jack is heartbreakingly constant. Ms. Smith shows her to be highly intelligent, emotionally uncertain, and occasionally manipulative.
The research in Grace and Power is prodigious, and the author makes every sentence carry its weight in facts. The result is a narrative that barrels along and maintains a degree of suspense, and a looming sadness, despite the fact that the ending has been known for 40 years.
One of the authors who blurbed the book called it "the last--and true--word on the Kennedy White House." He had it right. What a splendid piece of work.
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Format: Hardcover
The essence of "Camelot" wasn't necessarily the inspiring leadership of John Kennedy (although this certainly doesn't hurt the Camelot mystique) or the seemingly serene picture of the youngest elected President and his equally youthful wife, rather it was a culture, indeed an attitude or mystique that many historians have tried to capture with heretofore moderate to little success. In this light, Sally Bedell Smith has presented her attempt at synthesizing the mystique with the well documented history of JFK's administration and has succeeded fabulously with "Grace and Power".
The perspective that Smith presents is one that many historians have missed...in a day when JFK administration books abound, Smith gives us a whole new view into the Kennedy family. Right from the beginning of this work, we delve into the personal and behavorial side of both the new President and his First Lady and see how they are in turn affected by the avalanche of the media and policy machine. JFK's full medical history (recently made public in Robert Dallek's magnificent work "An Unfinished Life") is further explained by Smith with many new nuances and she describes how these many maladies not only affected his work as President, but his family life as well. Indeed, we see JFK's covert doctor (Max Jacobson..."Dr. Feelgod") administering to Jackie as well (during periods of stress or depression) and it's this level of new information, presented not in a tawdry gossipy style, but in fair and elegant prose, that really made this work hard for me to put down. JFK's dalliances with many other women comes to be a main theme at the beginning of the story and we see how Jackie's attitude of benign acceptance at this behavior is formed over time in the White House.
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Format: Hardcover
All the well-known incidents of Kennedy's 1000 Days are here, but I don't think you'll find anything substantial you didn't know about The Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missle Crisis, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, etc. What makes this book special are the highly credible anecdotes about the President and First Lady, the little things that make them come to life. I enjoyed reading about President Kennedy's complicated relationship with Adlai Stevenson and his fascination with the men women found attractive, and why. I also was intrigued by Jackie's ambivalence about her role as First Lady and her role in history, which seemed to be a reflection of her ambivalence about her marriage to the fascinating, trying man she loved. The tales in this book lend texture and depth to our understanding of the Presidency that helped shaped the turbulent 1960s.
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Format: Paperback
Although Sally Bedell Smith's "Grace and Power" cannot compete with Arthur Schlesinger's "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House" nor with Theodore Sorenson's "The Kennedy Legacy," the author makes absolutely no pretensions of doing so. Far from a political history of the Kennedy years, Ms. Smith has drawn on private letters, personal papers and 142 interviews with those close to John F. and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy to illuminate the personal lives of the martyred president and his First Lady. Her take on the couple's complex relationship, including his compulsion to take numerous lovers and her manner of coping with this problem, are mainstays here.

The book reads like an upscale Kitty Kelly bio. It is filled with sensational gossip, character sketches of glorious personalities, and fascinating anecdotes of the people and events that made the Kennedy years so exciting. Ms. Smith is an excellent raconteur who has done her research and written a nonfiction "tell all" that reads like a best-selling novel. But it is not what I would call a serious biography.

Sally Bedell Smith has also written biographies of Princess Diana and Pamela Churchill Harriman and has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair for about ten years.

If you are a "Kennedy junkie" and want to read about the 20th century Camelot, this is a book you will love. If you are looking for excellent political history, go elsewhere. I did enjoy "Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House," and though I was an adolescent during the magical time JFK was in office, it brought back memories of the president and first lady I idolized. On the other hand, there are things I wish had never been made public. And it is all made public here!

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