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February 3, 2012 / Leslie

Review – Audiobook: Historical Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

Jacqueline Kennedy:
Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy
by Caroline Kennedy, Michael Beschloss

Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Publisher: Hyperion
Publish Date: December 27, 2011
Format: Audiobook | 9 hours, 18 minutes
Rating: 4 of 5

In conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s Inauguration, Caroline Kennedy and the Kennedy family are now releasing these beautifully restored recordings with accompanying annotations and photos from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library as well as other sources. Introduced and annotated by renowned presidential historian Michael Beschloss, these interviews will add an exciting new dimension to our understanding and appreciation of President Kennedy and his time and make the past come alive through the words and voice of an eloquent eyewitness to history.

These conversations, recorded 4 months after JFK’s death as part of an oral history project, are a fascinating look back in time at Jacqueline Kennedy’s insights in her own words. Much has been written about her but she has only granted three interviews and never wrote an autobiography or memoir. Other than those interviews she never said another word about her life with JFK. After she left the White House she became a private citizen and concentrated on protecting her children from the media and the spotlight.

The interviews were conducted by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. He would ask a series of questions, what Jack thought or what she thought, at times prompting her about the event. She told of how her husband was a wonderful family man, how great he was with the children, that he was intelligent, inquiring and loved to read. She talked about his health and how he lived in constant pain from what she said was unnecessary back surgery, and general bits about their family life.

I was surprised at the candor she displayed in speaking about their days on the campaign trail, other politicians, government and foreign leaders, members of the Cabinet and their wives. There were a lot of people she dished gossip about and many of them she did not like. For those who studied the politics of the era or lived during this time many of these names will be familiar. She also discussed Jack’s views on many people and events. I wanted to hear his views on Cuba but she never asked him as it was a ‘worry’ and not something she wanted to bring up in their home.

From these conversations it’s apparent that Jackie was very much a woman of the times. She was smart and aware of what was going on but she also felt her job as First Lady was to support her husband and make the home a happy place, free from worry. Therefore, she only discussed what he wanted to talk about and claimed not to know his opinion on some events. One of the comments she made was about how women were unsuited for politics because they are too emotional. All that changed in the 70s and I wonder if she would have wanted to take that comment back.

Although the recordings are restored and the clarity is good, the technology of the time was not high quality. In several places it is difficult to understand what is being said. The microphone picks up the noise of people in the background, the children playing and airplanes roaring overhead. The audiobook version contains a pdf file of 128 pages of notes and photos, which were a nice enhancement. There is also a print version of the conversations and, after only listening, I think it would have been helpful to listen while reading along with the book.

For those who were born prior to the 1960s or have a passion for history, these conversations will be of interest and a fascinating glimpse into history.
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Source: Review copy.

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3 Comments

  1. BermudaOnion / Feb 3 2012 8:13 pm

    I bet my mother would love this – you adored Jacqueline Kennedy. I’ll have to look for the print version for her.

  2. Jennifer O. / Feb 4 2012 12:03 am

    I agree. But while my mother idolized her, I find a very enigmatic person…I think I’d enjoying listening to this one, too.

  3. sagustocox / Feb 4 2012 9:56 am

    This is a book I would love to check out.

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