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A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with America’s first families, by the man who spent nearly three decades in their midst J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with America’s first families, by the man who spent nearly three decades in their midst J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state. In Upstairs at the White House, West offers an absorbing and novel glimpse at America’s first families, from the Roosevelts to the Kennedys and the Nixons. Alive with anecdotes ranging from the quotidian (Lyndon B. Johnson’s showerheads) to the tragic (the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination), West’s book is an enlightening and rich account of the American history that took place just behind the Palladian doors of the North Portico.


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A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with America’s first families, by the man who spent nearly three decades in their midst J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with America’s first families, by the man who spent nearly three decades in their midst J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state. In Upstairs at the White House, West offers an absorbing and novel glimpse at America’s first families, from the Roosevelts to the Kennedys and the Nixons. Alive with anecdotes ranging from the quotidian (Lyndon B. Johnson’s showerheads) to the tragic (the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination), West’s book is an enlightening and rich account of the American history that took place just behind the Palladian doors of the North Portico.

30 review for Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I definitely enjoyed this. It covers life in the White House under the administrations of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and finally the first six weeks of Nixon's first term. The author began as Assistant Usher in 1941 to the Chief Usher Howell Crim. In 1957 he became the Chief Usher and continued in this post until March 1969. A Chief Usher oversees the First Family's private as well as public life, ensuring that public and private events don't conflict. They are responsible for the I definitely enjoyed this. It covers life in the White House under the administrations of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and finally the first six weeks of Nixon's first term. The author began as Assistant Usher in 1941 to the Chief Usher Howell Crim. In 1957 he became the Chief Usher and continued in this post until March 1969. A Chief Usher oversees the First Family's private as well as public life, ensuring that public and private events don't conflict. They are responsible for the management, maintenance and budget of the Executive Residence. Budgetary duties are extensive and intricate. (For example, costs for a State Dinner are not to be charged to the Executive Residence.) They supervise the White House staff. The post is not political; they must be able to provide exemplary, individualized service without personal preference. It is both a powerful and a delicate position that calls for the ability to communicate with politicians, officials, servants and First Families of widely divergent character. Diplomacy is essential to hold this job. Much of what is presented here concerns what the author learned about the respective First Ladies. Funny incidents. Each of these women was very different and you get a feel for their personalities. Eleanor Roosevelt was a whirlwind. Bess Truman treated the staff with immense respect, even taking the time to introduce each to visitors. Mamie Eisenhower knew what she wanted. She was friendly, out-going and vivacious. But she insisted that no footprints should ever be visible on rugs and the staff was only to use service elevators, no matter how impractical that might be. There is a hysterical incident about once when she had a cold. In bed, in the dark, she thought she grabbed Vicks Vapor Rub but instead.....read the book. Very funny! Marital relationships are revealed. One bed was broken. The Roosevelts were distant, the Trumans loving and discrete, the Eisenhowers visibly affectionate. Oh, and the Johnsons, they were fanatical about turning off the lights. I haven't said a word about the Kennedys. The book gains speed. Roosevelt is in his third term when West is employed and his position was only an assistant. For full details of the goings-on in the White House under the Roosevelts read: No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II instead. In general historical events are related but not in detail. Do not expect the author to make uncomplimentary statements about any individual. The audiobook narration by Eric Martin is slow and clear and easy to follow. I liked it a lot. Others may find it too slow. No dramatization. He simply reads the lines.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Author J.B. West spent just under 3 decades in the White House, serving first as assistant to the chief usher, and then as chief usher himself. All of us wonder what really goes on behind the scenes at the White House, and arguably no one knows the answer to that question better than the chief usher, whose responsibilities are great and varied, touching all aspects of the life of both the staff and the President and First Lady. The book devotes a chapter to each President and First Lady that J.B. Author J.B. West spent just under 3 decades in the White House, serving first as assistant to the chief usher, and then as chief usher himself. All of us wonder what really goes on behind the scenes at the White House, and arguably no one knows the answer to that question better than the chief usher, whose responsibilities are great and varied, touching all aspects of the life of both the staff and the President and First Lady. The book devotes a chapter to each President and First Lady that J.B. West served under, beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and ending with Richard Nixon. Well written, West succeeds in bringing you into the lives inside the White House, giving an insider's view into what it takes to keep the place running smoothly, and it takes a lot. The thing I found most interesting was the adjustments the staff had to make every time a new President and his family moved into the house. Some were, obviously, easier to deal with than others. West treats all of the Presidents he served with kindness in this book, although he doesn't shy away from letting the reader know of some of the "different" habits some of the Presidents and their families had that impacted those who served them. I would have to admit my biggest surprise was Eleanor Roosevelt. I won't divulge more than that due to spoilers. If you like history - and even if history isn't something you are normally drawn to - I still think most people would enjoy this book, especially those of us who can remember the JFK administration and on through Nixon. I was very young then, but even I remember seeing JFK in person when he came to Joliet, IL. My dad put me up on his shoulders in the pouring rain so we could see the man so many people loved. I will never forget that day, and I will never forget this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    James Bernard West – or J.B. as he was known – was born in 1912 and died in 1983. Following a career as a civilian officer in the US Navy and then in the Veterans Association, he served as Chief Usher in the White House from 1941 to his retirement in 1969. The post of Chief Usher may not sound very important, but in effect it meant that he ran the White House and was once called “the most powerful man in Washington next to the President”. He was responsible for everything that happened and was James Bernard West – or J.B. as he was known – was born in 1912 and died in 1983. Following a career as a civilian officer in the US Navy and then in the Veterans Association, he served as Chief Usher in the White House from 1941 to his retirement in 1969. The post of Chief Usher may not sound very important, but in effect it meant that he ran the White House and was once called “the most powerful man in Washington next to the President”. He was responsible for everything that happened and was answerable to the President. He oversaw the day-to-day running of the house, he organised banquets, state dinners, weddings, funerals, decoration, rebuilding. He was there when Roosevelt died and when Kennedy was assassinated. He had almost unlimited access to the President and First Lady. This memoir, first published in 1973, remains a unique glimpse behind the scenes during the presidencies of the Roosevelts, Trumans, Eisenhowers, Kennedys, Johnsons and Nixons. Gossipy and full of anecdotes, it makes for an absorbing and fascinating read. He shows the foibles and whims demonstrated by all the famous residents, and gives us many an insight into what life was really like out of the public gaze. But he remains respectful at all times, which is a refreshing change from the far too ubiquitous scandal-mongering exposés that such insider memoirs often degenerate into. There are some wonderful photos too. This is an immensely enjoyable and informative book, and one which deserves a new readership after its initial popularity and its long stay on the New York Times bestseller list.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    This was not my cup of tea. West served as White House Usher (the department responsible for the managing of White House operations) from late in the Roosevelt administration until a few weeks after the inauguration of Nixon. This is a memoir of his 30 years serving in that post, focusing on his interactions with the First Ladies. This is definitely NOT a kiss and tell; he is extremely deferential to the presidential families. His overall impression of these families was completely consistent This was not my cup of tea. West served as White House Usher (the department responsible for the managing of White House operations) from late in the Roosevelt administration until a few weeks after the inauguration of Nixon. This is a memoir of his 30 years serving in that post, focusing on his interactions with the First Ladies. This is definitely NOT a kiss and tell; he is extremely deferential to the presidential families. His overall impression of these families was completely consistent with everything I have read. The bits of trivia (e.g. Mamie Eisenhower liked to play a card game called Bolivia, Lucy Johnson signed her notes with a happy face, or the colors the First Ladies chose for the presidential living quarters) were of no interest to me. I found the writing style straight forward to the point of lackluster which added to my disinterest in this book. If this were not a book group choice, I would not have read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Launette Shaw

    I really loved this book, it was fascinating. I would have given it 5 stars except it wasn't a page turning novel. I now want to read about the last 5 president's wives. I'm not sure I would be as impressed with their character.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hope R

    Through this book the reader is allowed a glimpse into how first ladies of the past have publically supported their presidential husbands and how they chose to use their influence. This book gives insight into who several of the first ladies of the twentieth century were as individuals and how their personalities and values contributed to the way they filled their roles within the While House. As a reader I felt like I was learning history by chatting with someone who knew them personally. In Through this book the reader is allowed a glimpse into how first ladies of the past have publically supported their presidential husbands and how they chose to use their influence. This book gives insight into who several of the first ladies of the twentieth century were as individuals and how their personalities and values contributed to the way they filled their roles within the While House. As a reader I felt like I was learning history by chatting with someone who knew them personally. In this case, the chat was with J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, who worked with first ladies from the time of the Roosevelt administration to the first weeks of the Nixon presidency. His role in the White House was primarily to fulfill their wishes within both their private and public lives. He gives a unique insight into the mentality of those working in the White House from one administration to another. In order to not be devastated when one first family leaves and disloyal when another comes in, the staff must align their allegiance to the national agency that is the White House.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gary the Bookworm

    I prefer to think of myself as a "people" person, rather than a Nosy Parker (I am, however, a proudly skillful Facebook stalker). Fortunately, I'm not alone; J.B. West is my kind of guy. His engrossing bestseller about his years as a White House usher is packed with gossipy tidbits about America's First Ladies. He seems particularly smitten with Jack's Jackie O and Dwight's pretty, petite Mamie, yet he finds nice things to say about all of them - even Eleanor Roosevelt - and drops more than a I prefer to think of myself as a "people" person, rather than a Nosy Parker (I am, however, a proudly skillful Facebook stalker). Fortunately, I'm not alone; J.B. West is my kind of guy. His engrossing bestseller about his years as a White House usher is packed with gossipy tidbits about America's First Ladies. He seems particularly smitten with Jack's Jackie O and Dwight's pretty, petite Mamie, yet he finds nice things to say about all of them - even Eleanor Roosevelt - and drops more than a few bombshells. Apparently, Give 'Em Hell Harry's nocturnal romps with No Nonsense Bess were so wild that they broke their bed. President Kennedy used the White House pool to skinny dip twice a day, after which he padded up to his bed chamber clad only in his robe. Speaking of bed chambers, Winston Churchill liked to lounge around his during WWII without any clothes, much to the distress of the unlucky staff required to attend to his needs. I don't want anyone to get the idea that this is only about implausible bedmates and immodest heads of state. West is equally concerned with the challenges of maintaining the integrity of the house without sacrificing the privileges and privacy of its inhabitants. He is respectfully sympathetic to the tensions faced by first families as they struggled with the pressures of everyday life while living in a fishbowl. He accepts the changes which accompanied the arrival of each new family, but he also laments the consequences of some of their decisions: "The house “belongs” to whoever lives there. But I hate to see history disappear....For that reason, I was sorry to see the swimming pool go....It was a gift to President Roosevelt from the schoolchildren of America who collected millions of dimes to pay for constructing the heated indoor pool, which that President used every day in his first years of office for post-polio therapy. I remember President Truman swimming there, his glasses all fogged up, as part of his fitness regimen; the Eisenhowers’ grandchildren, coming over on weekends, splashing around with the greatest glee; the mural, a colorful sailing scene, commissioned by Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and painted by artist Bernard Lamotte, that brightened up the walls for the swimming races between President Kennedy and his Cabinet; the scores of bathing trunks hanging from the hooks for President Johnson’s guests—in all sizes from King Farouk to Mahatma Gandhi." Ironically, it was Nixon who turned the pool into a press room. Something he would live to regret.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Craig

    This is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the First Ladies from Eleanor to Pat Nixon. You get good insights on their personalities. Mamie Eisenhower was the biggest surprise, since I knew little about her, so it was easy to stereotype her as a quiet, military spouse. Not so. I also learned more about how the White House functioned as an organization. You learn a little more about the staff and the relationship between WH staff and the First Lady and President's own staff they bring to the This is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the First Ladies from Eleanor to Pat Nixon. You get good insights on their personalities. Mamie Eisenhower was the biggest surprise, since I knew little about her, so it was easy to stereotype her as a quiet, military spouse. Not so. I also learned more about how the White House functioned as an organization. You learn a little more about the staff and the relationship between WH staff and the First Lady and President's own staff they bring to the White House.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    According to my records I read this book in 1973, but I must admit I cannot remember one fact from the book. So I decided to re-read it as it was re-published again in 2014. The book was on the New York Times best seller list in 1974 and again in 2014. The book is about J. B. West’s 28 years career (1941-1969) as assistant, and then Chief Usher at the White House. The book covers the time from the Roosevelt (FDR) to the early part of the Nixon Presidency The Chief Usher is the manager of the According to my records I read this book in 1973, but I must admit I cannot remember one fact from the book. So I decided to re-read it as it was re-published again in 2014. The book was on the New York Times best seller list in 1974 and again in 2014. The book is about J. B. West’s 28 years career (1941-1969) as assistant, and then Chief Usher at the White House. The book covers the time from the Roosevelt (FDR) to the early part of the Nixon Presidency The Chief Usher is the manager of the Executive mansion. The book provides the behind the scenes peek at the running of the White House. West tells about the difference between the Presidents and their families. Each was distinctive and had different requirements. Some Presidents and first ladies were incredibly demanding, while some were as gracious and pleasant as a friend. The book is packed with information about the needs and running of the White House. Personal tidbits about the First Ladies and their husbands were quite revealing but nothing inappropriate was revealed. The author says that Eleanor Roosevelt never walked, she half ran down the halls. He said she was constantly in a rush, meeting, speeches, and teas. Said sometimes she was rushing down the hall dictating to her secretary as she was rushing off to an appointment. As a trivia fan I found this book a delight as it is so packed with unusual and little known facts. I missed out on all the photographs because I read this as an audio book. Eric Martin narrated the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This book was an unexpected treat. My favorite period in American history is the mid-20th century, which is right where this book starts off. Chief Usher J.B. West begins working at the White House while the Roosevelt family was living there and he shares snippets of his experiences with first families through the early Nixon administration. The authors did a marvelous job of taking me back in time and making the White House come to life. Not once did they overstep or over-share any details that This book was an unexpected treat. My favorite period in American history is the mid-20th century, which is right where this book starts off. Chief Usher J.B. West begins working at the White House while the Roosevelt family was living there and he shares snippets of his experiences with first families through the early Nixon administration. The authors did a marvelous job of taking me back in time and making the White House come to life. Not once did they overstep or over-share any details that I think would embarrass any of the first families, yet they still managed to humanize each family. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    Anyone who likes history and our presidents or is curious about life inside the White House will enjoy this book. It was a fascinating look at our first ladies, mostly, but also gave some glimpses of our leaders Roosevelt through the first month of the Nixon administration.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Luppino

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable listen. I learned SO MANY fun facts about the first ladies and the presidents served by J.B. West. The workings of the White House are fascinating.

  13. 5 out of 5

    HR-ML

    This book was written by an usher in the White House who was promoted to Chief Usher (CH). He described the role of CH as the White House mansion general mgr who saw to supervising / hiring/ firing 100 employees IE maids, cooks, carpenters, engineers, gardeners, etc. supervising maintenance/ remodeling of the mansion, making transport arrangements & guest accommodations at the WH, maintaining the 16 acres surrounding the WH. Also coordinating w/ other government organizations IE The Park Svc, This book was written by an usher in the White House who was promoted to Chief Usher (CH). He described the role of CH as the White House mansion general mgr who saw to supervising / hiring/ firing 100 employees IE maids, cooks, carpenters, engineers, gardeners, etc. supervising maintenance/ remodeling of the mansion, making transport arrangements & guest accommodations at the WH, maintaining the 16 acres surrounding the WH. Also coordinating w/ other government organizations IE The Park Svc, The National Art Gallery, the Smithsonian museums, The Navy, Air Force, Marines etc. I learned some history related to the First Families IE the Trumans discovered that the inside walls of the WH weren't reinforced, which caused structural instability and floors to slope. The Truman fam. lived several yrs in Blair House (across the street) while the White House needed all but it's outside walls gutted. The Trumans had more privacy @Blair House than in the WH. President Eisenhowser became the 1st POTUS to conduct a televised news conference. Each POTUS, by tradition, hosted the Supreme Ct Justices in Sept, before the court came into session in Oct. The White House cooks & butlers got off work at 8PM, the exception being state dinners. LBJ came across as selfish, he had lunch around 3PM & supper: whenever, as late as midnight or in the wee hours. He insisted these staff, who received no overtime pay, jump to his tune, on his time schedule. The author noted which POTUS slept in the same bed as his wife: just tacky. Considering so many Presidents he dis- cussed had workaholic tendencies, why wouldn't some of these men elect to sleep alone, in order to avoid disturbing the sleep of their wives? The author discussed his perception of each of the 6 First Ladies' personalities with whom he worked.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I found this book fascinating and entertaining. An unusual peek into what goes on 'upstairs in real White House' told by Usher J. B. West, as he worked alongside five First Ladies: Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, and Pat Nixon. Filled with anecdotes and insights and told with self-effacing humor and great respect for the Presidential families, J. B. West gives a delightful history lesson from behind the scenes.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    This is a very entertaining read about the White House and the families who live there. I truly enjoyed learning the role of the Chief Usher! The photographs were great, especially for this Canadian who has never visited the White House. (4 stars, KUYH November BOTM)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christina DeVane

    4.5 I really enjoyed learning more about all these First Ladies and certain work ethics they had or little quirks about them. You can tell this usher was very respectful of every Presidential family and did his best to make each resident happy. Facts I found intriguing: Mrs. Roosevelt was extremely hard working, always on the go, but didn’t spend much time with her husband. Mrs. Truman was quiet and resourceful and noticed all the dust and cobwebs. Mrs. Eisenhower liked to stay in bed until noon 4.5 🌟 I really enjoyed learning more about all these First Ladies and certain work ethics they had or little quirks about them. You can tell this usher was very respectful of every Presidential family and did his best to make each resident happy. Facts I found intriguing: Mrs. Roosevelt was extremely hard working, always on the go, but didn’t spend much time with her husband. Mrs. Truman was quiet and resourceful and noticed all the dust and cobwebs. Mrs. Eisenhower liked to stay in bed until noon (although working, not sleeping that whole time!😆) Mrs. Kennedy brought so many artifacts back to the White House with her restoration projects and sought ways to think outside the box to bring in extra funds for her projects. Mrs. Johnson knew how to handle her husband and had 2 daughters marry while in the White House. Mrs. Nixon was barely known by JB West. Some parts of the book drug in with details that don’t keep attention well, however the majority of the book was fascinating and I truly loved it!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Myla

    This was interesting, it's hard to say that I actively liked it, but I continued quite quickly through to the end, so I obviously enjoyed it more than maybe I think. Anyway, I did enjoy a little peek into the life of the president and his family as they made the transition to living in the White House and it was fun to get a little bit of history mixed in. I would find this same book continued on from the Nixons till now very interesting, but I don't think they would allow it...probably have all This was interesting, it's hard to say that I actively liked it, but I continued quite quickly through to the end, so I obviously enjoyed it more than maybe I think. Anyway, I did enjoy a little peek into the life of the president and his family as they made the transition to living in the White House and it was fun to get a little bit of history mixed in. I would find this same book continued on from the Nixons till now very interesting, but I don't think they would allow it...probably have all sorts of nondisclosure agreements. Mr. West for sure had his favorite (Jackie O), but he was also very complementary to the others First Ladies. In reading between the lines he is a very interesting man...I could NEVER do his job! I'm just not that formal and I despise setting up for parties! He dedicated 30 years of his life to the WH and the wants (whims) of some of these very privileged ladies. I wonder how much that job has changed? It does seem, although they were always talking about the budget, that it would be more economical just to have a WH decorator and each FL could have input but not free reign to do whatever. It does seem silly that the American people are paying to have that house redone every 4-8 years! Towards the end I found my interest in the goings on waning...I didn't care what they did with the Queen's room or or any room and what color they painted it or what chairs they pulled out of storage.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I would give this a 4.5. a very interesting book by J.B. West. written years ago. Mr. West was an usher at the White House from 1941-1969. His job was to be of service an usher to the first ladies. he began in 1941 With Eleanor Roosevelt. he was very good at describing each first lady.Mrs.Roosevelt was described as "always on the go and very busy" back then she thought nothing of walking by herself around Washington D.C. or driving herself when she wanted to go somewhere much to the protests of I would give this a 4.5. a very interesting book by J.B. West. written years ago. Mr. West was an usher at the White House from 1941-1969. His job was to be of service an usher to the first ladies. he began in 1941 With Eleanor Roosevelt. he was very good at describing each first lady.Mrs.Roosevelt was described as "always on the go and very busy" back then she thought nothing of walking by herself around Washington D.C. or driving herself when she wanted to go somewhere much to the protests of security. she loved to entertain and would invite strangers to visit her and the president. Mr. West eventually was promoted to head usher. I found this very interesting with his descriptions of each first lady. The all had very different personalities. and tastes in decorating the White House. Every time a new president came in it was clear it was First Ladies "job" to decorate the White house and the rooms they occupied. He shared about which rooms were occupied as bedrooms, others for entertaining. the Truman's did not get to actually stay in the White House because it was completely rebuilt inside staying at the Blair house instead. I every much enjoyed reading what Mr. West had to share about working for the first ladies. each lady being different from each other. I especially liked reading about Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy. this is NOT a mean spirited tell all kind of book. Mr. West always showed great respect about his experiences working with the first ladies. it was nice to get a chance to learn more about them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    I took my time with this one. . . .from the Roosevelts to the Nixons, got to see how the inner workings of the White house personnel, the families that lived their and their lifestyles, and Mr. West (the author) in his role as Chief Usher. Had absolutely no idea how complicated all that is, and God Bless them all. That is a job only a very special kind of person could do. I'm not one of them! But fun to read about.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Doyle

    This was a fascinating look behind the scenes of the lives of several First Ladies between the 1940s and 1960s. This wasn't a salacious, rumor-filled tell-all, but rather a personal and non-partisan view of what life was like for these women in the White House. The most riveting part was about Jackie Kennedy, but I enjoyed learning about each of these women, their preferences, and personalities.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Darby Stouffer

    So good! An enjoyable look into the behind the scenes day to day life in the White House from FDR to (briefly) Nixon. I learned so much about the inner workings of each Presidential family and particularly the personalities of the First Ladies. Informative without being unnecessarily titillating. Well written, maybe just a hair too long/wordy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Meggie

    Written by the Chief Usher to six presidents (Roosevelt-Nixon), this was a fascinating telling of the personal lives of Presidents, First Ladies and thier families. Each president conducted their social and personal lives so differently, and West’s incredible recollections of 28 years offered an interesting portrait of each. Complete with their food preferences, daily schedules, parties and interior decorating. I love how he described the transition between Kennedy and Johnson: “The house looked Written by the Chief Usher to six presidents (Roosevelt-Nixon), this was a fascinating telling of the personal lives of Presidents, First Ladies and thier families. Each president conducted their social and personal lives so differently, and West’s incredible recollections of 28 years offered an interesting portrait of each. Complete with their food preferences, daily schedules, parties and interior decorating. I love how he described the transition between Kennedy and Johnson: “The house looked the same, but slowly the Kennedy style was erased, just as the Eisenhower style had been erased previously. Beginning with the departure of Boudin [the Kennedy designer], the gulf between Texas and Paris widened even further at the White House.” If you love hearing about the non-political life of our great leaders, this is for you! It is quite readable and includes many photographs.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ariana

    It was interesting to learn about the different personalities of the First Ladies. I did get a little bored on the parts where each redecorated the house. It was interesting to see how they each handled working with the hired help and the different ways they did or did not respect these workers. Like Eisenhower not letting them use an elevator to get up to her because she deemed it the family only elevator so the staff took the stairs to bring her her breakfast. Really!! I enjoyed reading the It was interesting to learn about the different personalities of the First Ladies. I did get a little bored on the parts where each redecorated the house. It was interesting to see how they each handled working with the hired help and the different ways they did or did not respect these workers. Like Eisenhower not letting them use an elevator to get up to her because she deemed it the family only elevator so the staff took the stairs to bring her her breakfast. Really!! I enjoyed reading the way the author handled each new couple. That is some pretty wicked skills right there!

  24. 5 out of 5

    joyce g

    Interesting and factual. There were many details I learned through the etas.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mom

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was fun and interesting to learn about the human side of some of our presidents and their families. The focus, of course, is on the First Ladies and how they adapted to their lives while they were in the White House. Unlike a biography on the same subject, this was a more intimate look told by an eyewitness with an active part in White House life. It's a refreshingly balanced, honest account of the First Ladies, sharing both their good and bad points I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was fun and interesting to learn about the human side of some of our presidents and their families. The focus, of course, is on the First Ladies and how they adapted to their lives while they were in the White House. Unlike a biography on the same subject, this was a more intimate look told by an eyewitness with an active part in White House life. It's a refreshingly balanced, honest account of the First Ladies, sharing both their good and bad points without judgment.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I liked it. It didn't blow me away but I liked it. I enjoyed hearing about all the very different first ladies and their families. It made me wonder what an insider would say about me and about my relationship with my husband and about our children. I loved hearing how they spent their money, time and religious beliefs. I wondered as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints how that would be perceived by the public and those close to or serving the family. What kind of example I liked it. It didn't blow me away but I liked it. I enjoyed hearing about all the very different first ladies and their families. It made me wonder what an insider would say about me and about my relationship with my husband and about our children. I loved hearing how they spent their money, time and religious beliefs. I wondered as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints how that would be perceived by the public and those close to or serving the family. What kind of example would I be giving off? That could be a lot of pressure. Would my true intentions be misinterpreted? Are my intentions good? Especially having it be described by someone who wasn't familiar with my values. What would they think if we didn't have alcohol in the White House? Would that even be possible with all the visitors? Just made me think.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carole P. Roman

    Interesting book about the families that occupied in the White House from Presidents Roosevelt to Nixon. JB West, the head usher, gives an insider's look at the First Ladies and the way they made the house their own. Fascinating on many levels, it's a unique microcosm of our changing society. The shift in social status and the way things are done, as the Roosevelt's upper crust lifestyle exits, compared to the bread and butter of Harry Truman's middle America. Mami Eisenhower's velvet gloves Interesting book about the families that occupied in the White House from Presidents Roosevelt to Nixon. JB West, the head usher, gives an insider's look at the First Ladies and the way they made the house their own. Fascinating on many levels, it's a unique microcosm of our changing society. The shift in social status and the way things are done, as the Roosevelt's upper crust lifestyle exits, compared to the bread and butter of Harry Truman's middle America. Mami Eisenhower's velvet gloves fifties style housewife, contrasts Jackie Kennedy's upper crust finishing school style that brought a new elegance to the White House. Everything is lovingly detailed from the strange requests, the guest and parties, births and deaths, making each First Family unique. This book concentrates on women thrust into a peculiar position, torn from their regular lives, to create the illusion of normalcy for their families, all while being a role model for a country that has not quite figured out exactly what they are supposed to do.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Booknblues

    Earlier in April, I read American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt and became intrigued with life in the White House, so decided to investigate further by reading White House Usher, J.B. West's book Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies which covers life at the White House from FDR to Nixon. West states that the key to his job "The secret was loyalty to the White House and to the Presidency, rather than to whoever happens to be occupying the office for four Earlier in April, I read American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt and became intrigued with life in the White House, so decided to investigate further by reading White House Usher, J.B. West's book Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies which covers life at the White House from FDR to Nixon. West states that the key to his job "The secret was loyalty to the White House and to the Presidency, rather than to whoever happens to be occupying the office for four years, or eight." He was always available to the First Lady and with each West adjusted his position to fit their needs. It was truly intriguing to learn about the personalities of each of the First Ladies and how different they all were. West had so many great stories to tell about both the First Ladies and the White House. Jackie Kennedy loved animals and had many on the grounds for her children. “Mr. West—will you see about getting some deer for the south grounds?” But before I could go on a deer-hunt, we learned that we’d be receiving a pair of Irish deer, a gift from the President of Ireland. I called the National Zoo, to inquire about the care and feeding of the animals, but was discouraged by the zoo-keeper. “The zoo says deer are dangerous and unpredictable,” I advised Mrs. Kennedy. “Oh dear,” she said. “Then I guess we don’t want any after all.” And the Irish deer took up residence at the zoo. Several weeks later, Mrs. Kennedy sent another note: “Mr. West—will you see about getting a pair of peacocks.” This time I didn’t bother to check with the zoo. “The zoo says peacocks are dangerous and unpredictable,” I lied. Enough, as I said, was enough." . I have several more stories which I highlighted, but I think rather than sharing them that I will encourage you to read the book. Now I want to find out about life in the White House from Nixon era to present.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    This book was just lovely. I've always been intrigued by first ladies and the incredible impact they can have on the country. I was worried this book would be gossipy but it's not at all! J.B. West did a wonderful job describing each first Lady (Roosevelt-Nixon) and making her seem spectacular in her own right. My favorite part is that presidents and other important people are mentioned when relevant, but the first ladies are the star. His focus is with who they were at home with their families This book was just lovely. I've always been intrigued by first ladies and the incredible impact they can have on the country. I was worried this book would be gossipy but it's not at all! J.B. West did a wonderful job describing each first Lady (Roosevelt-Nixon) and making her seem spectacular in her own right. My favorite part is that presidents and other important people are mentioned when relevant, but the first ladies are the star. His focus is with who they were at home with their families and working with the staff, not their public persona. Mr. West only describes his personal interactions with them and kindly describes their strengths and vulnerabilities as a close friend would. I'd never heard of J.B. West before, but I'm so glad I had the opportunity to appreciate and learn from his hard work and kind heart. He was undoubtably a huge asset to the White House and was clearly such a stable comfort to all the First families as they moved in and out of the White House. Wonderful book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    4.5 I enjoyed learning more about how the White House is run, and now that my interest is piqued, I’d really like to find other books about the White House and the families that have lived there. I really appreciated that the author didn’t make any of it political. There was only one comment that hinted at his personal leanings. I definitely recommend it! I do wish I had a hard copy (instead of Kindle) just do that I could see the photos in the back as I read the applicable part of the book, and 4.5 I enjoyed learning more about how the White House is run, and now that my interest is piqued, I’d really like to find other books about the White House and the families that have lived there. I really appreciated that the author didn’t make any of it political. There was only one comment that hinted at his personal leanings. I definitely recommend it! I do wish I had a hard copy (instead of Kindle) just do that I could see the photos in the back as I read the applicable part of the book, and they might be in color.

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