Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years

Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years

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by Barbara Leaming
     
 

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Drawing from recently declassified top-secret material, as well as revelatory eyewitness accounts, Secret Service records, and Jacqueline Kennedy's personal letters, bestselling biographer Barbara Leaming answers the question: what was it like to be Mrs. John F. Kennedy during the dramatic thousand days of the Kennedy presidency? Brilliantly researched, Leaming

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Overview

Drawing from recently declassified top-secret material, as well as revelatory eyewitness accounts, Secret Service records, and Jacqueline Kennedy's personal letters, bestselling biographer Barbara Leaming answers the question: what was it like to be Mrs. John F. Kennedy during the dramatic thousand days of the Kennedy presidency? Brilliantly researched, Leaming's poignant and powerful chronicle illuminates the tumultuous day-to-day life of a woman who entered the White House at age thirty-one, seven years into a complex and troubled marriage, and left at thirty-four after her husband's assassination. Revealing the full story of the interplay of sex and politics in Washington, Mrs. Kennedy will indelibly challenge our vision of this fascinating woman, and bring a new perspective to her crucial role in the Kennedy presidency.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Liz Smith New York Post A fascinating work.

Bonnie Angelo The Washington Post Bona fide new material...meticulous research...achingly moving.

Deirdre Donahue USA Today Leaming paints a moving portrait of Jackie as she tried valiantly to make her marriage work and find a place for herself and her gifts.

Kirkus Reviews (starred) Likely to become the definitive biography of the Kennedy marriage.

When Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy arrived at the White House, she was only 31, and, according to biographer Barbara Leaming, a very unhappy wife. Leaming charts the history of the presidential couple's uneven and sometimes tumultuous marriage until its tragic end. Utilizing eyewitness testimony and recently declassified top-secret documents, she tracks Mrs. Kennedy's gutsy attempts to maintain her marriage and her happy public face. Among the most fascinating features this sympathetic account is the author's delineation of this first lady's role in international diplomacy.
Kirkus Reviews
"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 anaylsis, the author briefly explores her subject's childhood, and then dives into the Kennedy's 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 coundeled conciliation in the face of Hitler. The U.S. 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."

Publishers Weekly
Asserting that Jacqueline Kennedy's role in shaping her husband's presidency has been under-examined, Leaming (Katharine Hepburn) offers a corrective in this intimate look at a very private woman. Initially inclined to keep herself as much in the background as possible, says Leaming, Jacqueline Kennedy became an increasingly visible and vocal first lady as she realized how effective she could be as an image maker. It's in this capacity that Leaming convincingly depicts her as being instrumental in shaping the course of her husband's administration: charming, intuitive and socially savvy, she was clearly adept at recognizing precisely how to win over any given individual or audience, and to convince them to see her husband in a favorable light. While many world leaders, for example, were initially inclined to view John F. Kennedy as a playboy and an intellectual lightweight, Jackie skillfully massaged their perceptions until they began to take him more seriously and consequently to be much more responsive to his foreign policy agenda. But even as she worked hard on his behalf, Jack continually betrayed her with his legendary infidelities; the impact of this on Jackie's psyche is also a major theme here. Indeed, this is as much a psychological biography as a political one, and Leaming explores Jackie's complex and often painful inner life with subtlety and compassion. Unabashedly sympathetic toward her protagonist, Leaming provides a fascinating glimpse into the psychodynamics of one of the 20th century's most famous marriages, and her assertion that Jackie Kennedy deserves more credit than she's typically gotten for her husband's successes is persuasive. 32 pages b&w photos not seen by PW.(Nov.) Forecast: Leaming's bio of Katharine Hepburn was a bestseller, and one can predict generous sales for this title, which Leaming will promote in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., including an appearance on the Today show. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Despite the welter of material on Jacqueline Kennedy, biographer Leaming has indeed produced an original and compelling portrait of Jackie as first lady. Leaming has plumbed primary sources heretofore unused (such as the letters of Harold Macmillan) and conducted interviews with sometime friends and associates, perhaps more willing to talk now that Jackie has died. Leaming makes a persuasive case for Jackie's substantive contribution as first lady in the role of diplomat. Jackie did the research and softened up visiting leaders, who then met the president already impressed with his administration. Leaming also explains Jackie's highly criticized absences from the White House: she was fleeing her husband's flagrant womanizing. Leaming's extensive documentation of his shameless conduct and his cruelty to his wife is breathtaking. (Her theories about why they married and why Jackie stood for such treatment are less dispositive.) The publisher plans a national publicity campaign. Public libraries should stock up, but they won't be able to meet the certain demand no matter how many copies they own. Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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. Thestandard 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. Book-of-the-Month Club/Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club/History Book Club/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743227490
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
09/24/2002
Edition description:
First Touchstone Edition
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

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Author's Note

Had it not been for the fact that Jacqueline Kennedy was married to the President of the United States, it is unlikely that a single book about her would have been written. And yet, in the dozens of books about her, specific details of that presidency have been largely excluded. Even more striking, and of greater consequence, is the fact that the histories of John F. Kennedy's presidency are comparably flawed, missing as they do the story of Jacqueline Kennedy and her crucial role. In an effort to fill the gap, I have tried to tell her story in those years with as much attention to the presidency as to the events of her private life. The role of Jacqueline Kennedy is probably less understood than any other part of the Kennedy presidency; equally, her personal story cannot be grasped without seeing it in the context of the unfolding events of one of the twentieth century's most dramatic presidencies. Her life was changed by historical events in ways she had never anticipated. She, in turn, influenced certain of those events in ways that until now have remained largely unexamined.

The chronicle of any presidency is incomplete without a consideration of the president's private life. That is even more true in the case of John F. Kennedy, because his private life repeatedly put his presidency at risk. Oddly, Kennedy's detractors — those seeking to portray his so-called dark side — have largely excluded Jackie from their versions of events, every bit as much as his apologists have. I would argue that one can come to terms neither with Kennedy's darker aspects nor with his fundamental decency — nor, ultimately, with what was perhaps his most stunning unfinished achievement, his own personal struggle against unimaginable odds for a moral compass — without being intimately familiar with the unusual nature of his life with her.

What follows is Jacqueline Kennedy's story in the White House years told fully for the first time in the larger and inseparable context of the presidency. It is also, in important ways, the story of the Kennedy presidency, with a tremendous missing piece filled in. To view the presidency afresh, rather than start with published memoirs and established histories, I have reconstructed the story from scratch, using the vast documentation produced during the Kennedy administration: letters, memos, transcripts, reports, diaries, and other primary sources. Using Secret Service reports of presidential movements, appointment books, gate logs, and other records, I have tracked the President and First Lady, as well as their intimates and associates, on a day-by-day, often minute-by-minute basis. With the aid of transcripts and minutes of meetings, I listened to what was actually said, by Kennedy himself and by key participants, during the many tumultuous events that made this presidency such an exciting one. I followed the President afterward, whether upstairs to the family quarters or to the Kennedys' weekend retreat in the country, to see him unwind with his wife and close friends. I considered what certain of those friends had to say about the Kennedys, whether in letters or diaries of the period, or in interviews. And I listened carefully to Jackie's own voice, in letters and other documents.

No experience can have been more valuable to me than the opportunity to study Jackie's extraordinarily moving, uncharacteristically frank correspondence with Harold Macmillan, written after her husband's death. As I encountered the passionate, emotionally turbulent, unguarded voice in those letters, and made sense of the allusions, both hers and Macmillan's, to certain defining events in the presidency, I was struck by how little has ever really been known about Jacqueline Kennedy or her intimate life with Jack in the White House years. In telling that story, it is my hope that, as I did, the reader will come to a better and more sympathetic understanding of two flawed but good and remarkable people, both of whom, each in his or her own way, came to exemplify the virtue both valued most: courage.

Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Leaming

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Meet the Author

Barbara Leaming is the author of the critically acclaimed Orson Welles and the New York Times bestseller Katharine Hepburn. Her articles have appeared in Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Connecticut.

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Mrs. Kennedy 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a truly engaging and enlighting portrait of Jackie Kennedy, and one that has not been explored in much depth before this book. Her role as first lady and all she accomplished is explained in great detail, and one can't help but admire her more than ever. As one old enough to remember the scorn heaped on Mrs. Kennedy when she married Onassis, this book gives much background and a deeper understanding why she chose Onassis as her second husband. Her humanness as well as her amazing talents and accomplishments come to light in this book, one of the best I have ever read on Jackie Kennedy. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book reveals the courage of a remarkable women. There is no doubt that she loved her husband very much despite his flaws. She is indeed an American queen.It also proves that Mrs Kennedy had brains as well as beauty. Besides, we can understand the political and personal transformation JFK underwent during his presidency.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Outstanding research about the Kennedy marriage played out simultaneously with the American presidency. Mrs. Leaming's frank information about the Kennedy marriage, politics,sex,drugs,children,and Mary Meyers was unsettling, sad, and sometimes nice. It is a testimoney to the grit of Jackie Kennedy. The great mystery would be: if JFK had lived, would the marriage have survived the eventual presidential sex outting by the press.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is the best book that I have read on Jackie in a long time! She goes into depth about how much JFK's womanizing hurt her, not only that, but how her mothers verbal abuse affected her for years. It also shows the deep love that JFK felt for her, yet he was in conflict with that love and what he was taught to do by his father. It also goes into depth about how Jack sought a replacement for his beloved sister Kathleen Kennedy, and he sought that in Jackie. I definitely reccommend this wonderful book! Clarissa
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very detailed book, however there seemed to be more detail about JFK's presidency and what HE was dealing with than Mrs. Kennedy. I was okay with that - since the subject interests me - however I wish there would have been more on Jackie and what she was going through all the way up to her marriage to Onassis... After all, she was "Mrs. Kennedy" until she remarried. The ending seemed a bit abrupt. Other than that, a worthwhile read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you thought that 'The Dark Side of Camelot' and 'A Question of Judgment' were one-sided diatribes against JFK, you ain't read nothing yet. The President Kennedy that emerges from these pages is sex obsessed, amoral and incompetent. Unfit to hold high office, shameless and cruel in his treatment of Jackie - a saint who bears every burden with love and fortitude. More than 150 pages are an 'expose' of the affair between JFK and Mary Meyer (a woman I have never heard off before I read this) and a thoroughly nasty sleezey business it was indeed. JFK slipping off for sex with MM again and again, doing drugs with her during the Cuban Missle Crisis, rubbing Jackies nose in it at function after function. A never ending cavalcade of decadance and filth. If it wasn't for the fact that I have studied JFK's life from more than one distorted viewpoint, I could have fallen into the trap of swallowing a load of old rubbish like this!
Timber14 More than 1 year ago
The book seemed to be more about JFK's presidency itself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book is a very good book for anyone to read if they enjoy history or the Kennedys. The book portrays her life well. You get a better look at what Jackie's life was like!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book does not deal with Mrs. Kennedy as one would want to believe. The author is focused on Sex and Drugs. Her interest in President Kennedy sexual affairs and the need for drugs to keep going is not backed up with suporting evidence. She fails to really talk about or discuss Mrs. Kennedy. I feel this author is using the Kennedy name in order to make a profit and that is all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The last chapter and the Epilogue where what the whole book should have been like. I wanted to know about Mrs. Kennedy, who she contacted to redecorate the White House, her correspondence with them and her family and friends. What fund raisers did she have to accomplish this, who donated what? What did she do when she went to Glen Ora alone. She was a great gossip and wanted to know everything that was going on. People must have thousands of stories about her that don't contain the name Mary Meyer. If Leaming wants to do a book about M.M., don't call it "Mrs. Kennedy." There was talk she had someone else during that time, surely she could have gotten information if she had really wanted to. This book is totally sterile where Jackie Kennedy is concerned.