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The Butler: A Witness to History Hardcover – July 30, 2013
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"Wil Haygood blends the political with the personal in this portrait of White House butler Eugene Allen. Allen, an African-American, served eight US presidents (from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan) for 34 years – a span of time that included remarkable gains in civil rights." (The Christian Science Monitor)
"The Butler: A Witness to History should get just as much, if not more, attention than the film which uses its story for thematic foundation. Wil Haygood adds Eugene Allen’s chronicle to his impressive list of essential works on great figures in black and American history." (ArtsNash)
About the Author
A Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellow and a writer for the Washington Post, Wil Haygood has been described as a cultural historian. He is the author of a trio of iconic biographies. His King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., told the story of the enigmatic New York congressman and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. That was followed—after publication of a family memoir—by In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr., which was awarded the ASCAP Deems Taylor Music Biography Award, the Zora Neale Hurston-Richard Wright Legacy Award, and the Nonfiction Book of the Year Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. In 2009, he wrote Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson, which told the story of the famed New York pugilist known as much for his prowess in the ring as his elegant style outside of it. Haygood is an associate producer of Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
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After a two page foreword by Lee Daniels, director of the coming movie also titled "The Butler," we read how author Wil Haygood meets Eugene Allen and his wife, Helene, how he learns of Allen's early life and being hired to work in the White House, and his viewing of Allen's memorabilia in a basement room. Haygood's interviews with Allen reveal some interesting moments during his thirty-four years of service but nothing that we would call salacious gossip. Discretion was and is the key to loyal and successful service in such hallowed halls. All of this is covered in the first forty-four pages including a short aside by Haygood on his own life as a writer.
The next thirty-four pages deal with the filming of the movie in New Orleans and a discussion of how black people have been portrayed in movies. Haygood gives us background information on how difficult it was to get the movie produced and comments about actors such as Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and Cuba Gooding, Jr., all of whom are in the movie.
The final section of the book is brief and gives two pages each about five different presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan, chief executives whom Eugene Allen was privileged to know and serve.
In summary, this book seems more of an inflated promotion pamphlet for the movie rather than a suitable coverage of Eugene Allen's life and White House career. We see pictures of the five presidents mentioned but there isn't a picture of Eugene Allen anywhere in the book; that's a serious discrepancy in my view.
If this subject interests you, I suggest seeing the movie and hope it tells a better story about Eugene and Helen Allen than this book does.
These negative reviews reflect that the reviewer expected one thing and got another. That is not reason enough to not read the book.
As I write this it's still a week before the movie is released. Get the book. Read the book. Look at the pictures. (Did I mention it's got lots of glossy pictures.) Then go see the movie. I have a feeling the movie is going to be critically acclaimed and well received by the viewing public. The fantastic cast is also detailed in the book.
I was very disappointed in this book.