Thursday, December 21, 2017

Upstairs at the White House - J. B. West

Upstairs at the White House
Title: Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies
Author: J. B. West
Publication Date: 1973
Pages: 381
Genre: Historical / Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I love presidential history.
Date Completed: 12/11/17

Summary: West worked at the White House for twenty-five years. He reflects on his time serving some of our most memorable first families. 

What I Thought: I've loved reading presidential history, specifically first family history, since I was in elementary school. I think it feeds the same part of me that loves the royals. It's not just celebrity culture; there's a layer of historical import that gives it that added interesting bonus for me. 

J. B. West's memoir is well known among people like me who are into this stuff. Really, I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick it up. His career at the White House spanned from the Franklin Roosevelt presidency to the first weeks of Richard Nixon's. He saw some momentous times and interacted regularly with some of American history's most fascinating players.

The book is well organized. It's told chronologically. West mentions historic moments, but he maintains a laser focus on the personal lives of the first families. His role centered around the residence and so does his book. He answered directly to the First Lady for much of his career, so he has a lot of insight into their preferences and personalities. 

I came away from this book feeling much more endeared to the Trumans, confident I would not have gotten along with Mamie Eisenhower, and continually in awe of Jackie Kennedy. I learned a lot, including that the White House suffers a rat infestation at least once during every administration. Gross. West also sparked quite a few questions for me about what life in the residence looks like during this administration. I can only imagine. I'd snatch that book up fast. 

The one really big surprise to me was reaching the end of the book and realizing West was white. For whatever reason, I had been envisioning him as African-American throughout the book. Then, I looked at the pictures, and he is total white. In retrospect, that better explains his close friendship with the first ladies. I think some of them would not have gotten as friendly with a black staff member - a sad, sobering reality. 

It's really a great, fun read. It will likely make you reminiscent for an earlier era in a plethora of ways. If nothing else, it will give you a more well-rounded perspective on our mid-century first families and who they were out of the public eye. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Unlikely

A Reduced Review: This charming reflection from the man who ran the White House residence for decades captures the private personalities of some of our favorite first families. 

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