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Upstairs at the White House: My Life With the First Ladies Hardcover – 1973

4.5 out of 5 stars 2,394 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“I think he is one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met.” —Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

“If he were at court he would be called Head Chamberlain. . . . He finds solutions to so many problems with quiet efficiency.” —Lady Bird Johnson in A White House Diary\

“This memoir by the former Chief Usher (i.e. majordomo) of the White House is several Truman-balconies above all those others.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

J. B. West (1912–1983), chief usher of the White House—or executive director of the executive mansion and grounds—was once called “the most powerful man in Washington next to the president.” Discreet and witty, he supervised the large permanent staff that provided for every personal want and need for six presidents and first ladies, including at state dinners, weddings, and funerals, redecorating the facilities for each family and tending to every special request. He served first as assistant to the chief usher and then as chief usher after retiring as a high-level civilian officer of the US Navy. A native Iowan, his White House tenure (1941–1969) followed a career in the Veterans Administration. Upstairs at the White House was published in 1973 and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for months, with more than five hundred extraordinarily positive reviews, editions in seven languages, and more than two million copies sold in the US across hardcover and paperback formats.

Mary Lynn Kotz, the author of four books, is a freelance magazine journalist based in Washington, DC. A contributing editor of ARTnews, she has written many cover stories, including “A Day with Georgia O’Keeffe.” Her book Rauschenberg: Art and Life is the biography of the late American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), about whom she has given illustrated lectures at more than seventy museums and festivals, including at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 381 pages
  • Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan (1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069810546x
  • ISBN-13: 978-0698105461
  • ASIN: 069810546X
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,394 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kenneth Blum on February 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
J.B. West, the former Chief Usher at The White House, gives us an insider's view of America's most famous mansion. But this is hardly a boring house tour. Mr. West - in a dignified but very readable account - focuses on the Presidents, First Ladies, and their children, all who made this house on Pennsylvania Avenue a home. With great empathy and appreciation, he recalls the experience of working for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry and Bess Truman, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, and Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson.
Each family had their own style that the White House staff had to adjust to, from the reserved Roosevelts, to the refined young Kennedys, to the big-as-Texas style of Lyndon Baines Johnson which was in contrast with Lady Bird, his considerate and composed wife.
His portrayals of the First Families are not condescending, yet they are still very respectful. In his position, Mr. West worked closely with the First Ladies and each one had personal qualities that he grew to admire.
The accounts of ceremonies, dinners and banquets, remodelings, sudden changes, and visits by various dignitaries are all compelling reading in themselves. But we get an even more significant historical viewpoint through the description of the events that took place in The White House during crises, such as FDR's death, the attempted shooting of Truman, the Kennedy assasination, LBJ's announcement that he would not seek another term.
Surely, there were frustrations, and many of them are recorded in the book while others were avoided. For instance, I'm sure that Mr. West knew about some of JFK's White House trysts but chose not to write about them. If he would have, the book would have been even more successful than it was.
But Mr. West takes the high road, and we get to enjoy the view with him.
Well done, Mr. Chief Usher.
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Format: Hardcover
JB West's book "Upstairs at the White House" is a gold mine of interesting facts and anecdotes that is sure to capture the interest of anyone who picks it up. The easy, conversational style that West uses in telling of his experiences while employed at the White House gives an even more intimate quality to the already familial nature of the subject matter. Always respectful of those under which he served, West none the less shows us the faults as well as merits of those families that occupied the President's house during his approximately thirty year tenure. This is history that accomplishes so much of what good historical writing should: it is engaging, informative without being dry or long winded, and simply fun to read, enough so that this reviewer has gone back for another look more than once! If you want to know more about the White House lives of the first families from FDR to the early months of the Nixon administration, as well as fascinating stuff on the running of the mansion, this book is for you. Don't miss it!!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am currently reading it, and although I enjoy the glimpse behind the scenes, but often find its readability lacking. I lived in DC for years and would often walk or drive past the White House on my way to or from work. So hearing about the daily life behind those enormous white walls is really fascinating. However, sometimes the text resembles more a list of short statements about a person or an incident than an actual story. It then becomes a bit dry and doesn't 'flow'. I am sometimes also confused with the time line, as I've noticed that often events are not told in a strict chronological order. However, despite these readability issues, I am enjoying it.
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A story that is told so simply that it has the ring of truth about it. You almost expect an Upstairs Downstairs type of story but it is nothing like it. This book gave a great measure of humanity to the Presidents it covers and their First Ladies showing just how influential the Ladies were. Highly reccommended
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Format: Hardcover
I have been an avid collector of president/first lady/white house books since I was a child. I have read the same facts about the first families over and over. Then I found Upstairs At the White House by J.B. West, and it immediately became a favorite. Mr. West worked with the first families from the Franklin Roosevelts to the Richard Nixons on a daily basis. He was privy to "insider information" that most people never heard about. His approach to the divulgence of his knowledge is always in good taste and respectful of the families he served. Yet, this book is packed with anecdotes and information that I had never read in any other volume. Since my first reading of Upstairs At the White House, I have found Mr. West quoted by a number of other presidential writers. I can certainly understand why -- Mr. West gave the world a wonderful window into the lives of several of our nation's first families and made them come alive for us.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very interesting book. I just wish it had completed Nixon and continued to the present administration. Highly recommend this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Read this book years ago when it first came out in paperback and literally wore it out. When I saw the Kndle edition, I had to get it. Enjoyed it again!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Really, really enjoyed reading about part of our history of the first families.
It tells of interesting parts of daily lives you don't often read about.
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