three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
user_rating: 
0

The Private World of the Kennedy House

A-GracePowerThe Kennedys, shrouded in glamour, legend, and mystique, remain larger-than-life figures. Jack brought charm and optimism to the White House; Jackie, a woman bound by courage and a sense of duty, handed down classy upper-crust habits to ordinary American women. Together, Smith argues, the Kennedys and their special circle "set out ambitiously, almost grandiosely, to create an America in their own image." Grace and Power follows Jack and Jackie’s Camelot years from the presidential election to the assassination, focusing on their tumultuous, bittersweet relationship and the White House culture they created. Together, Smith concludes, they "set America on a higher path."
Random House. 608 pages. $29.95.
ISBN: 0375504494

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"There is convincing independence of observation and thought throughout—neither belying nor betraying Smith’s unapologetic appreciations and enthusiasms. … If you read no other of the 600-plus volumes, do consider this one. The story has not been better or more fully told." Michael Pakenham

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[Smith’s] writer’s eye pans back and forth like a weaver’s shuttle, developing characters and creating depth and texture. … Although her part is smaller, Jacqueline Kennedy is the unquestioned star of this play…" David Mehegan

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What Ms. Smith has done is to write the first substantial narrative that captures what daily life was really like in the inner sanctum of the White House during the Kennedy years, with Jack and Jackie appropriately cast as the lead actors in the intriguing drama. … Grace and Power is exceedingly well- written and ably researched fluff…" Douglas Brinkley

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It would be altogether unfair to the author… to suggest that she has written a slick cut-and-paste exploitation shocker in the style of a London tabloid. … In more than one respect, however, the narrative is skewed. There is too much on grace, too little on power." William E. Leuchtenburg

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Grace and Power reads like something you’d be giddy to find in your dentist’s waiting room, a gracefully written tell-all that really does tell a story worth reading. … One eventually wearies of Smith’s ponderous inventories of possessions and birthday gifts and the many side characters whose accomplishments, if any, have strictly to do with the acquisition and display of inert objects." Gary Indiana

Time 2 of 5 Stars
"Kennedy confidant and journalist Ben Bradlee has his initials tattooed on his right buttock, with a snake wrapped around them. You can read this little fact either as part of what book reviewers like to call a ‘wealth of historical detail’ or as symptomatic of a fetishistic interest in the most insignificant minutiae of the presidency of John F. Kennedy. Either is fine, but decide now, because there’s a lot more where that came from …" Lev Grossman

Critical Summary

Vanity Fair contributing editor Smith has written a glossy, gossipy, but serious account of the Kennedys’ White House Years. If you’re looking for analysis of the Bay of Pigs or Cuban missile crisis, turn to one of the other thousand Kennedy books (see below). Grace and Power, a social history of the Camelot couple, contains just enough political asides to interest history buffs. But Smith, a consummate researcher and reporter, focuses mainly on minutiae, from Jackie’s Cassini-designed wardrobe to her discussion with a doctor about foreplay techniques. Nonetheless, she presents a diverse array of characters, particularly Jackie, with flair and sophistication. One caveat: this book, notes the Washington Post, "should carry a warning label: ‘Not for those with a low tolerance for treacle.’"

Kennedy Biographies

AS-ProfilePowerPresident Kennedy Profile of Power | Richard Reeves (1993): Still the Kennedy biography most tailored to a broad audience.

AS-UnfinishedLifeAn Unfinished Life | Robert Dallek (2003): 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003. More scholarly in tone than Profile of Power, but with stunning revelations about the extent of Kennedy’s health problems.