The best books on Jacqueline Kennedy’s creation of Camelot’s magic

Barbara A. Perry Author Of Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier
By Barbara A. Perry

Who am I?

My passion for the Kennedy family dates to seeing JFK in person as a young child. Shortly after his death, my mother purchased a children’s book about the 35th president, which I read repeatedly and still have in my extensive “Kennedy library.” It led me to pursue a professional career as a political scientist, specializing in the presidency and First Ladies. I now direct Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, am a member of the Advisory Board of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation, and serve on the Board of the White House Historical Association, founded by Mrs. Kennedy in 1961.

I wrote...

Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier

By Barbara A. Perry,

Book cover of Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier

What is my book about?

In a mere thousand days, Jacqueline Kennedy created an entrancing public persona that has lasted six decades. My book is the first to focus largely on Mrs. Kennedy’s White House years, portraying a First Lady whose beguiling family, stylish couture, promotion of the arts, and charming diplomacy contributed to America’s ultimate victory as leader of the free world.

From a reluctant political wife, to one of the nation’s youngest presidential spouses, to that dark day in Dallas, Mrs. Kennedy’s glamor, fashion, beauty, and ability to master symbolism and imagery through her use of television and state entertainment, seared her legacy in the public’s psyche. Her layering of the Arthurian legend of Camelot over the “brief, shining” Kennedy presidency and its tragic end remains among her crowning achievements.

The books I picked & why

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Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

By Caroline Kennedy, Michael Beschloss,

Book cover of Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

Why this book?

This set of 8 CDs and corresponding transcripts, with hours of interviews between Jackie Kennedy and the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., brings alive the First Lady’s memories of her husband, their marriage, and life in the White House, only a few months after JFK’s assassination. I will never forget listening to Jackie’s authentic voice as if I were sitting in the room with her as she relived the triumphs and tragedies of Camelot. Her description of the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, when she told her husband, “I want to die with you,” is riveting.

Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House

By Sally Bedell Smith,

Book cover of Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House

Why this book?

Written by a bestselling biographer of British royals and statesmen, this story of John and Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House years is a sparkling account of their life at the pinnacle of power before tragedy ended the American fairy tale. Its rich detail and compelling narrative make it a genuine page-turner.

My mother took me to see Senator John F. Kennedy campaigning in our hometown of Louisville, KY, in October 1960, just before his selection as America’s youngest elected and first Catholic president. Although only 4 years of age, I was hooked on the excitement of presidents, the White House, and First Ladies, and I’ve been reading POTUS and FLOTUS biographies ever since. Smith’s accessible story of the Kennedys’ style and grace is my favorite.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me

By Clint Hill, Lisa McCubbin Hill,

Book cover of Mrs. Kennedy and Me

Why this book?

I was a second-grader at St Albert the Great School in Louisville, KY, on November 22, 1963. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and we were coloring pictures of pilgrims. Suddenly, our principal appeared at the door. We were told that President Kennedy had been shot and that we were going to church to pray for him. Soon word came that the president had died. The next day’s newspaper pictured Mrs. Kennedy’s Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, jumping up on the trunk deck of the presidential limousine in Dallas, after the fatal shots, as he saved the First Lady from injury. This book about his association with Mrs. Kennedy is a tasteful rendition of his behind-the-scenes experiences with the First Lady. I was honored to meet this genuine hero in 2011.

The Kennedy Baby: The Loss That Transformed JFK

By Steven Levingston,

Book cover of The Kennedy Baby: The Loss That Transformed JFK

Why this book?

This e-book by The Washington Post’s book editor is the moving account of Jackie’s heartbreaking loss of her and the president’s baby, Patrick, in August 1963. Always plagued by problematic pregnancies, resulting in a miscarriage and stillborn daughter in the 1950s, as First Lady Mrs. Kennedy hoped to give birth to her and the president’s third child (to join five-year-old Caroline and two-year-old John Jr.) in September 1963. But the baby arrived more than a month early, suffering from undeveloped lungs, and died within two days. Jackie and Jack were devastated. As they clung to each other in grief, the First Lady told her husband that she couldn’t bear to lose him. She would just three months later.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story

By Barbara Leaming,

Book cover of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story

Why this book?

Many books have been written about Mrs. Kennedy’s post-White House life, especially her 1968 marriage to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, her jet-set lifestyle, and her second widowhood as a successful New York book editor, but I find Leaming’s deeply researched look at how JFK’s horrific assassination may well have afflicted the former First Lady with PTSD to be as credible as it is moving.

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