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READING JACKIE by William Kuhn

READING JACKIE

Her Autobiography in Books

By William Kuhn

Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-53099-6
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday

A clever, surprisingly substantial take on the life of Jacqueline Onassis (1929 –1994).

Kuhn (History/Carthage Coll; The Politics of Pleasure: A Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli, 2006, etc.) admiringly portrays this American icon as a bookish creature born to uncertain privilege who embraced her more wealthy, connected husbands for security rather than a meeting of artistic minds. “Jackie,” as the author calls her throughout, came into her own as an editor only after second husband Aristotle Onassis died. Kuhn asserts that through her publishing list of nearly 100 books, first at Viking, then at Doubleday, this most private public person truly revealed what she cared passionately about. The author’s brisk, officious, often repetitive narrative moves quickly over Jackie’s early career, characterized by the thwarting of her earliest desires to be a ballet dancer and then a writer. Landing a job at Viking in 1975 fulfilled a kind of dream postponed—she had won Vogue’s Prix de Paris for her essay as a 21-year-old college student, gaining her an internship at the magazine’s Paris office, only to be forced by her mother to decline. She also found an important new mentor in former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Through Vreeland, Martha Graham and Bill Moyers, she developed her first successful books. The author traces Jackie’s professional development, from a “shy celebrity recruit” to a macher who could bring in big names via books by Michael Jackson, Naguib Mahfouz and Gelsey Kirkland. Kuhn argues that Jackie touched on forbidden themes in her own life—her husband’s adultery, the humiliation of marriage, political machinations—only through her list, including such books as Barbara Chase-Riboud’s controversial novel Sally Hemings (1979) and Elizabeth Crook’s novel about Sam Houston and Eliza Allen, The Raven’s Bride (1991). In between chronicling the titles shepherded by Jackie, Kuhn offers delicious tidbits of gossip, such as Jackie’s evident glee and pride at her salary increase and promotion to senior editor.

Both respectful and scintillating.