Nine times out of ten I run to the cheesy romance novels for a good quick read. As part of the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge (and my desire to narrow down my list of books I’ve bought on Amazon but have not read) I picked up a book that I bought sometime this summer.
Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies is an inside look from the journals of J. B. West, former chief usher of the White House. J.B. chronicles the inside stories of the White House and first ladies starting with Elenore Roosevelt & ending with Pat Nixon. He tells stories of the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson & the start of the Nixon administrations.
As a complete nerd for the inside scoop on politics I really enjoyed reading this book. I’ve been known to re-watch The West Wing over and over again so this was a treat to read even if President Bartlet wasn’t featured (kidding).
The book starts in the middle of the Roosevelt administration. He doesn’t hold back on interesting stories. There are a number of stories that tell a whole lot more about what goes on behind the scenes at the White House. For instance, he discusses the wheelchair ramps built throughout the White House for FDR as well as the hospital bed he slept in, separate from Elenore Roosevelt.
Each President Mr. West worked for received 5-7 chapters throughout the book for the most part. Some of the presidents he had for longer in the White House so obviously those first ladies had more stories to tell.
J.B. West tells stories as the White House went through reconstruction, redecoration with each of the first ladies, additions being built, pools being covered & the White House being opened up to tourists. His stories range from the exact moments he found out about the deaths of FDR & JFK to the tales of hilarious side of the First Ladies that the public rarely ever saw. J.B. West had the honor of watching not only a number of children grow up in the White House but as he himself says, many First Ladies figure out who they are as well.
Very early on Mr. West talks about having to realize that you are working for the White House, not the President. The person who holds the title of the President will change as the years go on but your duty is to the White House.
Throughout each of the presidencies Mr. West details how involved (or not involved) the First Ladies choose to be in politics. Even those who were not involved in the politics, he made a point to say, still played major roles in decisions that were made politically even if they didn’t realize it.
I loved reading this book and the stories that he had to share. Through reading the book you can tell that he formed a very personal relationship with each of the first ladies as well as their staff. He was well respected as was his wife who shared him through his 28 years in the White House.
My mom and I are having a debate about where I first heard about this book. At the moment I couldn’t tell you! While the book was released in 2013, Kindle edition of the book seems to be the way to go. Hardcover copies are going for $125! While the book was good, I wouldn’t consider it worth that much! If you are a history buff at all or interested in the position of the President I highly recommend checking out this book.