Rated of 5
by Barbara Magallona
More than a rehash
The challenge of writing a biography on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is that everyone knows the basic plot: a love of horses, suffered from her parents' divorce, enjoyed a good education, married a U.S. President (and all the triumphs and tragedies and scandals attached to him), copied for her style, lived a jet-set life with a Greek billionaire, raised her children well, worked as a book editor then died of cancer.
I've read the famous Jackie biographies (by the likes of C. David Heymann and Barbara Leamer), the rather implausible ones like Kelley and Klein and even Stephen Birmingham's charmingly analytic book. What I liked about Sarah Bradford's book are essentially a) her access to sources, b) a respectful attitude towards the subject without being cloying and c) her writing style. I appreciated the references that the Jackie in the White House was corrupted by a combination of power, pressure and paranoia: someone snooty and aloof and terribly self-conscious (a contrast to the fun girl adored by Yusha Auchincloss and Charlie Bartlett). The book implies that Jackie realized that she could be rather mean-spirited and that she may have regretted some of the things she had done (or not done). Bradford sides with Jackie yet one also senses the times she disagrees with her subject.
In my opinion, Bradford made the characters come alive in all their complexities; she shied away from condemning the Kennedy men's philandering and she did not focus on any petty bickering between Jackie and her sisters-in-law. Instead, she mentions them, offers an explanation or two and then indicates consequences. I appreciated this sense of restraint to indulge in Kitty Kelley-like dirt-dishing. The author is as classy as her subject.
Bradford's biography is more organized than Heymann's and not as painstakingly detailed as Leamer's (who even analyzes why Jackie used a huge bucket for caviar at a private White House dinner). Leamer's good angle was the Macmillan connection; Bradford's strength is Jackie alone - a woman who chose her battles and matured into the roles of daughter, sister, wife, mother, celebrity, widow, jet-setter, book editor and grandmother - a woman who lived an extraordinary life.