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Secret Lives of the First Ladies Paperback – September 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Cormac O’Brian is the author of Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents and Secret Lives of the Civil War. He lives with his wife in New Jersey.
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Product Details

  • Series: Secret Lives
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books; Revised edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594744327
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594744327
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cormac O'Brien has published books on everything from natural disasters to U.S. presidents, from ancient empires to the American Civil War, bringing a distinctive voice to chapters of the human story that are as fascinating as they are significant. He has spoken at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and made appearances on NPR, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, and other venues. Born and raised in western New York State, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey S. Simmons on February 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
Recently a foreign journalist interviewing George W. Bush asked the President of the United States to turn out his pockets. What an interesting, humanizing thing to ask of the most powerful man on Earth. And exactly the kind of thing that never occurs in the burlesque of today's 24 hour electronic news cycle. The contents of our pockets, those little handy nooks that serve as contingency storage for our day-to-day indispensables, speak wonderful, accessible volumes about us as people. Show me what you have in your pockets and, whether or not I know WHO you are, I get a glimpse what KIND of person you are. In Secret Lives of the First Ladies, Cormac O'Brien has politely turned out the pockets of the spouses of each of our presidents, and it's a neat-o treasure trove he uncovers. His style is neither lewd nor exploitative, though, to be sure, there's plenty of juicy stuff here. His project is a sort of cameo portraiture of some forty seven intriguing and often remarkable women. The only flattery in these portraits is a consistent, entertaining, and often astounding disclosure of each woman's individual humanity. It is tempting to read the book in little chunks (as I did at first) owing to its concise chaptering. However, it's a real pleasure go back and review long stretches, watching how the public appearance of the First Lady has evolved over time while her private role has remained remarkably consistent: she is the president's wife. Which is to say, sometimes she is a loving yet diminutive spousal anchor and sometimes she is a headstrong engine of scandal and outrage. Sometimes she is a fully enfranchised partner in even the weightiest decision-making at the executive mansion, including public policy.Read more ›
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Helen Highwater on September 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is loaded with factual information, and yet, somewhere in the midnight hours reading about Ida McKinley, my compassion for her far exceeded the author's glib summation of her life. There seems to be too much twentyfirst century historical judgment and bias.

For example, take Ida McKinley, who apparently during the second year of her marriage lost her mother, her second child after a difficult delivery, and two years later had her remaining daughter die of typhoid fever. And we think Hillary might have had a rough time. Well, Ida got "the falling sickness" or epilepsy, and the author's summation that "Two things, however, are certain: doctors could do little for her beyond sedation, using narcotics to put her in a state of semiconsciousnes that made her look like the undead; and her husband, bound to his decaying wife by a sublime sense of duty, became, in a fashion, her slave." And who would be chipper with this much personal loss is such a short period of time.

It's an interesting book in a sort of Jeopardy/trivia fashion.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Chris Gladis on January 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a follow-up to O'Brien's previous book, Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents, which, while a fascinating book, is a topic that has been covered many times. I have, in fact, two books on this topic, and they both illuminate the hidden idiosyncrasies, character flaws, shining moments of virtue and petty humanity of the 43 Commanders-in-Chief.

It was Abagail Adams who exhorted her husband to, "Remember the ladies," and it seems that O'Brien has done just that. He's given us a nice concise look at the women of the White House, and it's a hell of a read.

It's very easy to forget the First Ladies, and kind of pigeonhole them into the space that reads "President's wife," but to do so would be a great disservice to an amazing group of women.

A lot of people remember Hillary Clinton as being a political powerhouse, a kind of "co-President." But she wasn't the first, by any means. When Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1919, all access to him was controlled by his wife, Edith. She would let no-one in to see him, on the grounds that he was very ill and needed absolute peace and quiet. So, when someone needed something signed by the President, Edith would take it, close the door, and come back a few minutes later with the signed document. The question very quickly arose: who's really the President?

Helen Taft is another forgotten First Lady firebrand. Without her motivation, William Howard Taft might have been perfectly happy to be a judge, but that wasn't good enough for Helen. From her teenage years, she knew that she wanted to live in the White House, and she pushed her husband to make damn sure that she did.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By C. Gittler on August 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
I LOVE this book. It's full of interesting information. I love books like these where you get to learn something. I have given it to two of my friends that are history teachers and they have used some of the information about the first ladies in their lessons. It's something that the kids can find interesting. I couldn't put it down. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in history.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you like trivia, you'll enjoy this book. If you have only enough time to read short chapters or a few pages at a time, again, you'll like this book. Each chapter, which is about one first lady, is only a few pages in length -- perfect for bedtime reading for tired moms like me. There was enough information about each first lady to pique my interest, and make me want to find more in-depth biographies about many of the women.
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