Although forty-one years have passed since the Kennedys lived in the White House, the history of that era remains fertile ground for contemporary writers such as Sally Bedell Smith. Her latest book, Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, offers readers a detailed account of the day-to-day operations of the Kennedy White House. The author, who has previously written books on Princess Diana, Pamela Churchill Harriman, and William S. Paley, drew from 140 interviews, conducted over sixty oral histories, researched FBI records, and utilized archival research in her work on the Kennedys. In the book, which includes numerous black and white photographs, Smith portrays John F. Kennedy as vibrant, humorous, and intellectually curious, a man immersed in the times in which he lived. The author also recounts the president’s lifestyle, such as his insatiable appetite for seducing attractive women while president. And she also asserts that the president’s behavior lent itself to a certain “hedonism and moral relativism,” which seemed to permeate through the White House during Kennedy’s tenure in office.
The author also writes extensively about the president’s wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Although Smith describes Jackie Kennedy’s self-centeredness, love of money, and vanity, she emphasizes the former first lady’s interest in giving an important cultural boost not only to Washington D.C., but also to America. She chronicles Jackie’s restoration of the White House and her avid interest in the arts and humanities. The former first lady is often portrayed as a woman of substance and inimitable style, who left an indelible mark on American history.
Smith also devotes time to the impact that the president’s 1963 assassination had on Jacqueline Kennedy. She recounts Mrs. Kennedy’s meeting with journalist Theodore H. White in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts one week after the president’s assassination in Dallas, Texas. And she writes about the former first lady’s personal consultation with a Jesuit priest, who assisted Jacqueline Kennedy in coming to terms with her husband’s untimely death.
Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House is available in hardcover from Random House.