Aristotle Onassis left Greece for Argentina in August, 1923, with a total of $250 in his pocket. In 1946, twenty-three days short of his forty-seventh birthday, he married the seventeen-year-old daughter of the head of one of the first families of Greek shipping. Obviously, the twenty-three years between his departure for Buenos Aires and his arrival in New York were profitable ones for Onassis. As the decades passed Onassis added to his already considerable fortune, becoming one of the richest men in the world. Thirteen years later, after considerable provocation, his wife Athina secured an extremely favorable settlement, which, together with her own inheritance, made her a charter member of the international jet set.

Aristotle Onassis made money, lots of money, and his former wife, soon remarried to the son of the 10th Duke of Marlborough, followed the sun from one playground for the rich to another. The unfortunate victims of this divorce were Alexander and Christina--the one the “heir to the throne” and the other the unwanted, unloved constant reminder that her mother was no longer young and desirable.

Christina Onassis was not unattractive, but she lacked conventional beauty. Moreover, a life composed of governesses and boarding schools failed to inculcate the young heiress with either morality, sensibility, or effective limits on her behavior beyond satisfying her every desire. Needless to say, such a situation was not conducive to an emotionally stable existence, and Christina Onassis staggered from one disastrous personal attachment to another.

HEIRESS demonstrates, if additional confirmation is needed, that the rich are indeed “different from the rest of us” and yet they are also the same. The only thing worthy of note is that when rich parents misbehave toward their children the consequences will be reported around the world in print and on videotape. It is to be wondered if the next decades will see a replication of Christina in the person of her orphaned daughter Athina. This is a harrowing book; Christina Onassis’ life is as difficult to read about as it must have been to live.