Feature

Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Greg Lawrence

In this respectful work, Lawrence has succeeded in giving the rest of us a new image of Jackie.

(Thomas Dunne, 320 pages, $26)

In 1975, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was adrift, said Edward Kosner in The Wall Street Journal. With her children in their teens and her second husband, Greek magnate Aristotle Onassis, just deceased, the 45-year-old former first lady “found herself stranded in a 15-room Fifth Avenue apartment” and contemplating her next move. Her answer came when the president of Viking Press offered her a $200-a-week position as a consulting editor, which she took. As Greg Lawrence argues in this “energetically reported” work, the two decades she’d spend in publishing turned out to be one of the most fulfilling times of her life.

Perhaps that’s because it was the one part of her remarkable life that “she most clearly chose for herself,” said Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times. Writing and reading, notes Lawrence, were long Jackie’s “private passions.” She’d entertained the notion of becoming a reporter before she married John F. Kennedy, in 1953, and over the course of her life, she “assembled several notable private libraries.” Not much was expected of her in publishing, but she proved an enthusiastic editor. Acquiring autobiographies from such fellow celebrities as Michael Jackson and producing illustrated books on home decor and French court life, she embraced “publishing as commerce,” taking pleasure in helping produce titles that clicked with consumers.

Lawrence, who was one of Jackie’s writers, argues convincingly that the first lady was no dilettante, said Joseph Kanon in The Washington Post. She was instead a “slyly funny” colleague who, like her less famous peers, “attended editorial meetings, had projects turned down, published books that sold and books that didn’t.” She also worked tirelessly almost until the moment she was derailed, in 1994, by non–Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In this respectful work, Lawrence has succeeded in giving the rest of us a new image of Jackie, one of her “kneeling on her office floor going through page layouts.” Behind all her “tragic charisma,” he’s found a very likable woman.

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