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Autobiography Review – Upstairs at the White House

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies
by J. B. West

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

With all of the Presidential politics of the past couple of years I really started to wonder what life in the White House is really like.  And, if I’m honest, my recent binge of The West Wing played a role in this curiosity, as well.

J.B. West worked at the White House for over 25 years, as Assistant to the Chief Usher and later as Chief Usher. He worked closely with each First Lady as she grew familiar with the home and acclimated to life in the White House.  West worked in the White House with the Roosevelts, Trumans, Eisenhowers, Kennedys, Johnsons, and Nixons.  It was a fantastic position from which to experience the ups and downs of presidential living and the ups and downs of the country.

Some memorable takeaways were West’s descriptions of the never ending visitors of Mrs. Roosevelt’s who would stay for weeks at a time in the White House. The cancelling of the formal season at the White House following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the White House going through food rationing during World War II like the rest of the country. The frugality of the Trumans and the true relationship that created their strong marriage. The vast reconstruction of the White House during the Truman years.  The control Mamie Eisenhower had over every aspect of life in the White House and her generosity at birthdays and the holidays for all of the staff she had contact with on a daily basis.  The lengths that Jackie Kennedy took to protect her children from the press and public eye while in the White House and the darkness that fell over the White House after the assassination of President Kennedy.

I found West’s book interesting and it seemed like an honest account. I was so fascinated by the ‘behind the scenes’ look at the life in the White House and how it transformed over the years. The photographs he shared were also great and put an image to some of the descriptions he provided.  I think this would be an interesting read for any presidential or first lady history buff. Solid 4 stars.