(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Aristotle Onassis himself was the instigator of this book. In 1968, British journalist Peter Evans was contacted by an Onassis emissary and eventually met the fabled Greek shipowner. Despite his initial reluctance, Evans fell under the well-known Onassis charm and agreed to write his biography. Evans soon learned, however, that Onassis’ version of the truth was sometimes questionable; even his birthdate changed several times. When Onassis decided to wed Jacqueline Kennedy, he dropped the idea of a biography completely.

Evans could not drop the idea, however, and this book, written almost twenty years later, is the result. The key to the billionaire’s success was his singleminded pursuit of his goal: to be ultra-rich and ultra-powerful. Nothing--neither wives, lovers, children, war, nor temporary reverses--was allowed to stand in the way.

Born to an affluent Greek family in Turkish-ruled Smyrna, Onassis eventually was forced to flee the city to avoid a Turkish massacre. He ended up penniless in Buenos Aires, where his rise to wealth began in the tobacco business. Later, he began the ship-owning and shipbuilding empire that made him one of the world’s richest men.

The story of Onassis’ marriages to Tina Livanos, daughter of a rival shipowner, and to Jacqueline Kennedy, as well as his long affair with Maria Callas is well-known. It is the fascinating details of his rise to power and his relationships with those he used and generally dropped along the way that make this book eminently readable. Although Evans spoke with many people who knew his subject well, Onassis remains basically an enigma; the “real” man does not fully emerge from the mass of detail. Many who knew him are gone and others still will not discuss him more than ten years after his death in 1974. Some of the information about his early years came from Onassis himself and must be considered suspect. Nevertheless, this biography is highly recommended as a well-written glimpse into the rarefied world of the enormously rich and powerful.