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MRS. KENNEDY by Barbara Leaming Kirkus Star


The Missing History of the Kennedy Years

by Barbara Leaming

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2001
ISBN: 0-684-86209-3
Publisher: Free Press

The famously private Mrs. Kennedy has met her match and is herein revealed—along with her husband and his administration—respectfully but thoroughly, by an author possessed.

With admirable obsession, biographer Leaming (Marilyn Monroe, 1998, etc.) has plumbed the vaults of the many official libraries (JFK’s, LBJ’s, Oxford’s Bodleian) and consulted with Secret Service personnel, Kennedy friends, and White House log books to create a convincing day-by-day chronicle of the Kennedy marriage and presidency. Armed with a remarkable level of detail and turning an eye toward psychological analysis, the author briefly explores her subject’s childhood, and then dives into the Kennedys’ life together. In Leaming’s view, the personal and political spheres of the Kennedys are inseparable. Thus, the Bay of Pigs fiasco is explained as a son attempting to compensate for his ambassador father’s perceived weakness when, decades before, the elder Kennedy counseled conciliation in the face of Hitler.The US involvement in Vietnam is traced back to Jack’s inability to focus on foreign affairs after the death of his newborn son. Meanwhile, Jackie’s determination to be a good wife is what spurred her to enter the world’s stage. Leaming paints a portrait of a political creature whose every action was premeditated, from her whispery voice designed to project a non-threatening femininity, to her decision to quit Washington every weekend in order to allow Jack to conduct his extramarital affairs out of her sight. Full of such interesting theories, Leaming is particularly convincing when arguing that Jackie was to Jack nothing so much as the perfect replacement for his beloved sister, Kick, who died very young. The standard tasty details of dress, design, and glittering social circle are not neglected; indeed, Jackie's sense of style writ large is seen as her particular genius, equally useful for charming world leaders and the crowd back home.

Admirably detailed, stunningly successful, and likely to become the definitive biography of the Kennedy marriage, with all the intimacy and international scope implied.