All Told?

What Jackie Kennedy’s Memoir Says About Her—And Us

O Jackie! For once in her life, though long after her death, Jackie Kennedy has let us see the flesh-and-blood woman behind the black veil, and it’s plain unfair of me—hypocritical and unsisterly, really—to squirm at the sight.

In an oral history released forty-seven years after she spoke with Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in 1964, she described Charles de Gaulle as “that egomaniac,” called Martin Luther King Jr. “a phony,” and Indira Gandhi “a real prune.” With an efficiency that would make Barbara Bush blush, she settled scores with everyone from her social secretary to American presidents past and then present: “Oh, God,’’ she remembers her husband saying, “can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon was president?” Even FDR gets the back of her hand. “Charlatan is an unfair word,” she says, again quoting JFK, but “he did an awful lot for effect.”

If ever there was an unreliable narrator, it was the woman whose Camelot revisionism has survived only because we want it to. My friend who used to say she was “giving it the full Jackie Kennedy” when advocating for her own son meant that for strategic reasons, she’d chosen to betray no hint of any feelings more complicated that gratitude and awe.

Yet am I glad that Jack Kennedy’s widow did not, as it turns out, suffer in complete silence? Yes and no: Nobody can be Jackie Kennedy all the time,...

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About the Author

Melinda Henneberger, a Commonweal columnist, is the former editor-in-chief of