Synopses & Reviews
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis never wrote a memoir, but she told her life story and revealed herself in intimate ways through the nearly 100 books she brought into print during the last two decades of her life as an editor at Viking and Doubleday. Based on archives and interviews with Jackie's authors, colleagues, and friends, Reading Jackie
mines this significant period of her life to reveal both the serious and the mischievous woman underneath the glamorous public image.
Though Jackie had a reputation for avoiding publicity, she willingly courted controversy in her books. She was the first editor to commission a commercially-successful book telling the story of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his female slave. Her publication of Gelsey Kirkland's attack on dance icon George Balanchine caused another storm. Jackie rarely spoke of her personal life, but many of her books ran parallel to, echoed, and emerged from her own experience. She was the editor behind bestsellers on the assassinations of Tsar Nicholas II and John Lennon, and in another book she paid tribute to the allure of Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas. Her other projects take us into territory she knew well: journeys to Egypt and India, explorations of the mysteries of female beauty and media exploitation, into the minds of photographers, art historians, and the designers at Tiffany & Co.
Many Americans regarded Jackie as the paragon of grace, but few knew her as the woman sitting on her office floor laying out illustrations, or flying to California to persuade Michael Jackson to write his autobiography. Reading Jackie provides a compelling behind-the-scenes look at Jackie at work: how she commissioned books and nurtured authors, as well as how she helped to shape stories that spoke to her strongly. Jackie is remembered today for her marriages to JFK and to Aristotle Onassis, but her real legacy is the books that reveal the tastes, recollections, and passions of an independent woman.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"William Kuhn reveals the Jackie I knew as a person and professional: serious, smart, intuitive about ideas and aesthetics, but also down to earth in the sense of understanding the potential audience for a book. In Reading Jackie I learned so much about her I didn't know, and Kuhn tells the story with such flowing grace of phrase and structure. A splendid work." Bill Moyers
"Jackie appears (as she was) a well-liked, respected colleague, often slyly funny and not given to showboating...Seeing Jackie kneeling on her office floor going through page layouts gives us a new image to keep that myth alive....If we're going to have a myth, why not one with her nose in a book?" The Washington Post
"Unexpectedly and intelligently dishy....In the end, this is quite a fascinating portrait of a complex woman, who had the interests and enthusiasms of her class and was allowed to indulge those passions with singular force and focus." The Boston Globe
"A revealing, readable, and insightful book. Readers of biographies of iconic figures will eat this up....Kuhn's respectful approach would probably have met with Onassis's approval." Library Journal
"A clever, surprisingly substantial take on the life of Jaqueline Onassis....Both respectful and scintillating." Kirkus Reviews
"A fascinating window into an aspect of Jackie Kennedy Onassis that few of us know." USA Today
"Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books
— a work that is part popular history, part industry gossip, and part literary exegesis — attempts to fill in the "white area" between this perennially alluring widow and the QVC jewelry now made in her image. Using the titles Jackie edited for Viking and Doubleday after both her marriages had ended, Kuhn attempts to 'tell a story about her that she was never willing to tell in her own lifetime.'" Jeanne-Marie Jackson, Bookslut
(Read the entire Bookslut review
About the Author
William Kuhn is a biographer and historian. He is the author of three previous books, including, most recently, a controversial biography, The Politics of Pleasure: A Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli
. His Henry and Mary Ponsonby: Life at the Court of Queen Victoria
was a BBC Radio Four Book of the Week read by actor Geoffrey Palmer.