Sunday, December 4, 2011

Day 4: Conversations with Jacqueline Kennedy

Welcome to Day 4 of our 24 Days of Books. Today we offer you Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. The book is based on conversations between Jacqueline Kennedy and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., that took place in her Washington house in the spring and early summer of 1964. At home and at ease,  she spoke about her husband and their time in the White House, with young Caroline and John Jr. occasionally popping in. She was in her mid-30s and recently widowed but determined to set down her thoughts for history.

The book's foreward is written by Caroline Kennedy, with an introduction and annotations by the historian Michael Beschloss. Most importantly, it contains eight CDs with never-before-released interviews. After the interviews took place, the tapes of those sessions were sealed and later deposited in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, in accordance with Mrs. Kennedy's wishes.

Here is Caroline Kennedy writing in the book's foreward about the decision to release the tapes at this time:  "In 1964, as part of an oral history project on the life and career of John F. Kennedy, my mother sat down with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., to share her memories and insights. Recorded less than four months after the death of her husband, they represent a gift to history and a labor of love on her part....The moment seems right — enough time has passed so that they can be appreciated for their unique insight, yet the Kennedy presidency is still within living memory for many who will find her observations illuminating....My parents shared a love of history. To them, the past was not an academic concern, but a gathering of the most fascinating people you could ever hope to meet."

The book and tapes show a politically curious first lady, sometimes caustic and often witty, who had strong views about everyone around her. What’s especially striking is how candid the first lady was in these interviews, and her willingness speak her mind.

The Kennedy family has been a subject of great interest to the baby-boomer generation. [Two other Kennedy-related books receiving much positive acclaim right now are the new biography of Jack Kennedy by Chris Matthews (Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero) and the novel by Stephen King (11/22/63) about a time traveler who tries to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy.] But this book/CD package gives us the opportunity to hear from the former first lady herself, providing insights on the many significant people and events that shaped JFK's presidency and offering us perhaps the most informed, genuine, and immediate portrait of John Fitzgerald Kennedy we shall ever have, as the past comes alive through the words and voice of an eloquent eyewitness to history. The book is illustrated and the package handsomely produced.

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