Tina Santi Flaherty
What Jackie Taught Us
Lessons from the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Perigree Paperback 2014
Originally, particularly in American writings, one of the explicit purpose of biography was to teach readers how to live. As Scott E. Caspar writes in Constructing American Lives (1999), in nineteenth-century America “biography remained the essential genre for creating American pantheons: collections of lives that represented the nation’s history, aimed to promote values or virtues or both.” This function, however, often flies under the radar. People read biography to learn about real lives; they may not be consciously paying all that much attention to the lessons they transmit.
In What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons from the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Perigree paperback reprint, 2014), author Tina Santi Flaherty (philanthropist, businesswoman and former radio broadcaster) drops all pretense and explicitly mines the life of Jackie O- a life with which, 20 years after her death, many Americans still feel intimately familiar- to see what we can learn from it. The result isn’t a self help book so much as a book that shows how we instinctively use the stories of lives and integrate them into our own. It’s a provocative exercise.
Re-released here to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Onassis’s death, this version of What Jackie Taught Us includes a series of new essays that represent an important contribution to, not only Flaherty’s book, but also “Jackie studies” in general. It’s a treat to have the legacy of someone who’s so seldom considered seriously (so often she’s reduced to dresses and hats) reevaluated by the likes of Edna O’Brien, Allen Packwood, and Malacky McCourt. And Liz Smith’s preface is a downright gem.
Twenty years after her death, we’re still curious about Jackie. From Flaherty’s book, we get some clues as to why.