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Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies | [J. B. West]

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies

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, funerals, gardens, playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home.
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Publisher's Summary

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, funerals, gardens, playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For 28 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 audiobook is an enlightening and rich account of the American history that took place just behind the Palladian doors of the North Portico.

©1973 J. B. West (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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  •  
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 01-02-15
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 01-02-15 Member Since 2015

    I am an avid eclectic reader.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating"

    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 walk, 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.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 04-27-15
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 04-27-15 Member Since 2011

    I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!

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    "A tasteful taste of history"

    The author, John West, was Chief Usher at the White House through several presidential administrations, from Roosevelt to Nixon.

    What are the key character attributes of anyone holding this job? Well, obviously, the person should be well-organised and a good communicator, but they should also be discrete and tactful, and able to be trusted to keep a secret. So can we still consider John West to be trustworthy now that he has spilled the beans, revealing the secrets of the presidents’ wives? Or do these revelations mean that trust in him was misplaced?

    Somehow John West manages to tell the story while retaining his reputation as a man of discretion and honour, so we aren’t left with the feeling that this is a tacky case of Kiss and Tell.

    How does he achieve this? Well, firstly, he says that his principle motive is to ensure that the lives of the First Ladies over three momentous decades are not lost to history. Secondly, he must have seen, or suspected, some scandalous behaviour going on within the White House walls, but if he did, he omits these incidents from the book. For example, he never mentions JFK’s infidelities, or any other sexual impropriety for that matter. Thirdly, without being sycophantic or bland, he manages to portray the characters of the presidents and their wives in a largely positive light. It seems as if he genuinely is telling us his story for the sake of history, and because he wants to share the interesting narrative with us, and with posterity, without resorting to scandal or gossip.

    It is fascinating to be a fly on the wall, getting an insider’s insight into the characters of the World’s most powerful men and their wives, as each couple displaced its predecessor and the White House staff adjusted to their different personas. We are privileged to get intimate behind-the-scenes views of such events as the death of Roosevelt, the Cuban missile crisis and the JFK assassination.

    The book has some weaknesses, but in fairness, they are probably an inevitable result of its structure and subject matter: Although the author has a masterly ability to portray the characters of the presidents and their wives, it is inevitably conveyed as a long series of anecdotes. If this was the autobiography of a great inventor or adventurer, then there might be some sense of the protagonist gradually building towards the climax of achieving their life’s goal. Whereas in this book, each presidency is a new chapter, without a sense of it building on the previous chapter’s momentum, and there is no overriding goal, because the chief protagonist is essentially a passive witness to the lives of the first families, rather than having a historically significant life of his own. So for this reason the book fails to be truly captivating.

    Because of the subject matter the story also, equally inevitably, gets caught up from time to time in the details of room décor, furniture, bedlinen, etc., and so the listener can be forgiven for drifting off a little from time to time when such particulars fail to hold the attention.

    But these negative aspects of the listening experience are outweighed by the positives, and the overall impression as a listener is that I’m glad John West shared his story with us.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bee 12-09-14
    Bee 12-09-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Loved it!"
    Where does Upstairs at the White House rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    So far, it's Number 2. Excellent book, great narration, fascinating material. It was one of those that grab you by the collar and just yank you in before you even know it.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    I enjoyed the author's enlightenment on the First Ladies. Very interesting.


    What about Eric Martin’s performance did you like?

    Seemed real, not memorized or even read, really.


    Any additional comments?

    It really peaked my interest, and I'll be looking for other books of a similar nature.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynn Montgomery, IN, United States 10-04-14
    Lynn Montgomery, IN, United States 10-04-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Perfect"

    Loved this book and the authors life at the Whitehouse......couldn't stop thinking about it after I would put it down....he makes you feel like you are there with him...it was recommended for me to read and I'm so glad I did.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A. Romero 08-08-14
    A. Romero 08-08-14 Member Since 2014

    Book Lover

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    "Just Enough Information"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Upstairs at the White House to be better than the print version?

    Yes. The narrator did a very good job of painting a picture.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Upstairs at the White House?

    Each women had one story that was memorable.


    Which character – as performed by Eric Martin – was your favorite?

    Mamie Eisenhower - what a spirit.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    How each First Lady needs to make this home their own


    Any additional comments?

    This gives just enough information on the First Ladies from Roosevelt to Nixon. The author doesn't dish dirt, but gives a very clear picture of these women and their personalities Very historical.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brenda Liberty Township, OH, United States 07-09-14
    Brenda Liberty Township, OH, United States 07-09-14

    I am a mother of two adult children and married to a wonderful man. I am a full time Realtor who enjoys historical fiction.

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    "Step Inside The White House in Years Past!"
    If you could sum up Upstairs at the White House in three words, what would they be?

    This book really had me feeling like I was at the White House and knowing what these earlier first ladies were like. Beautiful story.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The Head Usher, pride of work.


    What about Eric Martin’s performance did you like?

    He took the character on and made it his own.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Josie 04-28-14
    Josie 04-28-14
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    "Even better in Audio"
    If you could sum up Upstairs at the White House in three words, what would they be?

    History, personal version


    Have you listened to any of Eric Martin’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, I love spreading it out, listening to it with my husband in the car as he's a history buff.


    Any additional comments?

    I loved reading this in paper decades ago. It is only better as an audio.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hallie J. Carl 06-12-15

    Hallie

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    "Beautifully written"

    If you have any interest in history at all, is broken for you. An interesting and classy look at the lives of presidents written by the head usher for the White House for over 28 years.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne E. Sayers Lexington, KY United States 05-09-15
    Anne E. Sayers Lexington, KY United States 05-09-15 Member Since 2006
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    "Compelling testimony of life in the White House"

    Very interesting book about running the White House as told by the former head usher who served under the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, lbj, and Nixon administrations with special focus on the First Ladies.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    shirley 04-16-15
    shirley 04-16-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Great listen"

    The book was really great with wonderful narration.
    I did not want the story to end.
    The time flew by.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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