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First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents Paperback – Bargain Price, October 16, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, October 16, 2001
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Succinct and highly readable, this group portrait of the 11 women who gave birth to America's 20th-century presidents might just put a more favorable spin on the phrase "mama's boy." From Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, all these chief executives were devoted to their mothers (relations with Dad were often more problematic), and that devotion had a direct effect on their presidencies--for the most part, a positive one. Sara Delano Roosevelt's adoration gave her son the self-confidence necessary to champion the New Deal's more unpopular measures. Martha Truman's personal experiences of the Civil War's bitter aftermath inspired Harry's determination to lend a hand to the vanquished as well as the victorious after World War II. Ida Eisenhower's pacifism didn't prevent her from supporting Dwight's decision to pursue a military career, but it shaped him into that welcome rarity, "a military leader who hated war." Lillian Carter's defiance of Southern mores to espouse civil rights and her precedent-shattering stint in the Peace Corps (at age 68) affected Jimmy's emphasis on human rights as well as his post-presidential commitment to serve the less fortunate. Virginia Kelley gets slapped for imparting to Bill Clinton the sense that "rules were for other people," but she's also credited with instilling his famous ability to feel other people's pain. In First Mothers, Bonnie Angelo, a longtime correspondent for Time magazine, delineates 11 different lives with a journalist's gift for cogency and an ability to see underlying similarities. Many of the facts here are familiar, but her interpretations are fresh. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Presidents are born, not made, right? On the contrary, claims Angelo, a veteran Time correspondent, who makes it clear that it's the cut of the apron and the strength of its strings that turn a son into a president. The 11 first mothers included in this illuminating and irresistibly readable bookAevery presidential mother from Sarah Delano Roosevelt onAall instilled in their sons supreme confidence and (with the exception of Sara Roosevelt) an awareness of social issues. Drawing on letters, interviews (including those with Presidents Ford, Carter and Bush) and historical evidence, Angelo paints vivid portraits of these "indomitable American women" whose gumption and drive to see their sons succeed were (with the exception of Virginia Clinton Kelley) very much steeped in what Tocqueville described as a 19th-century spirit of independence. In fact, while all these women were "highly individualistic," Angelo points out how much they had in common: all of them married late, and most of their marriages were marked by terrible trials and tragedies. Angelo explains that she started with the story of FDR's mother because his presidency marked "the beginning of contemporary America and the modern presidency, the prize that now can be won only by men of supreme self-assurance who are willing to withstand the grinding process and microscopic examination." While telling their individual histories, Angelo also draws fascinating parallels that indicate how the grounded philosophy and fighting spirit of the mother became that of the son (e.g., Lillian Gordy Carter learned from her father to treat blacks with careAan attitude that was decried by their neighbors but had an enormous impact on Jimmy Carter's presidential focus on equality). 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Lane Zachary. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060937114
  • ASIN: B000GG4FMM
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,685,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on October 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book was so much fun to read. It presents some heretofore unknown insights into the lives of presidents from FDR through Clinton. It specifically focuses on the mother-son relationships and it is full of surprises. It presents a total picture of the early years of these men and how many similarities there are within their family relationships. Fascinating! George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had poor relationships with their mothers! They were exceptions to the close, favored son duos of most of the presidents in the book. A page turner. Well written. I was sorry to see it end.
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Format: Hardcover
Bonnie Angelo was my roommate on a White House Press trip for Mrs. Johnson's New England beautification projects during the six-day Middle East war in June, 1967. It was a time when our editors were, particularly, disinterested in flower and covered bridge stories. However, Bonnie worked hard and resourcefully, earning my respect for her abilities and sunny disposition.
It was my first year with the N.Y. Daily News Washington bureau. She was a star of TIME, a tiny dynamo often chosen when an able White House "pool reporter" was needed for an elegant event, one where reporters were barely tolerated. That December she was stationed -- for Lynda Byrd Johnson's marriage to Charles Robb -- behind a white panel specially erected to match the East Room wall with holes for her to peek through. Bonnie curled up in her "spy hole" facing the bride and groom, taking notes through the service, hidden from the V.I.P. guests. Then she came down to the pressroom to tell other reporters all about it.
During her years covering Washington she heard so many presidents mention the influence of their mothers -- not their fathers -- on their lives that she decided to go back, wherever possible and get the stories first hand. She spent two years interviewing presidents and hundreds of surviving friends and family members. First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents benefits from the friendly contacts she made over twenty-five years here and from her eye for the human story behind the pomp and circumstance.
Washington used to be a place where a man left his past behind when he made it here, and newspapers ignored present scandals unless they occurred publicly -- in the street frightening the horses -- as the saying went.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book gives many interesting details about the ancestry and the childhoods of presidents from FDR to Clinton. I was fascinated at how many of our recent presidents went through periods of real poverty during their childhoods.
You really don't get too much information about the mothers though. It's mostly inferred from the situations and minor passing comments made by those who knew these women. The pictures are pretty few and small, so you don't always even get a good feeling of how these women looked.
Also, as another reviewer remarked, it is kind of frustrating and confusing the way each chapter jumps back and forth in time.
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Format: Hardcover
As a mom to 2 sons, and also as Host of BellaOnline's Sons Channel, I have always been of the opinion that boys are shaped and molded more so by their mothers words and deeds than anyone else they come into contact with. This is never more apparent than in Bonnie Angelo's book, "First Mothers". These women, whether knowingly or unknowingly, raised their boys to achieve the highest pinnacle of leadership our country offers. The stories told in this book are poignant, reveling and speak volumes about the mother/son bond.
A must read for any mom of boys!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a rich topic, the influence of mothers upon famous men, but the author presents her material with all the depth of those admiring biographies of famous women written for junior high school girls. The reader is jerked back and forth in time while the author hops from one topic to the next while discussing presidential "first mothers" in a superficial and breathless style. There are a few moments of candor that make these mothers more than cardboard saints,(Eleanor Roosevelt comes in for quite a bit of criticism for her lack of mothering skills), but these moments are few and far between. When the author does permit some clouds of disapproval to darken her sunny skies, her criticisms are quickly balanced by elaborate, and rather strained, excuses for the woman's behavior. (Angelo's depiction of Mr. Clinton's mother could have been written by a rabid Clinton apologist.) Three stars because of the interesting topic although it only deserves two for execution.
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Format: Paperback
Imagine if the public throughout history had been privileged to read books and concepts like this one. We might have had entirely different Presidents than we had, or we might have had a much better understanding of the kind of President we were getting. Barbara Bush has been around for some time, and most know both her influence, and her ability to put people at ease with her common sense and her style. We've yet to hear anything about the mothers of the current candidates in 2004, but who would not remember Lillian Carter, feisty as she was, a no nonsense strict disciplinarian if my memory serves me correctly, but endearing, and honored by her son, the President. One of the most powerful mothers of all was Bill Clinton's mother, and when I read her story I wept, not only for her, but for her family, and in part, for me, and for all of the women I'd known who had to march forward in life in less than ideal circumstances. Hers were pretty bad, but they sounded more familiar than not, unfortunately, as I'm sure they did to many others. I had never read a more powerful personal reflection and about such deeply troubling topics. Their familiarity continues to move me whenever I think about it. With all of our rhetoric about how we claim to be opposed to domestic violence, physical, emotional and verbal, we've done little to the vast need that actually exists. She may have been the first that I'm aware of in my lifetime to be so candid, and be connected to so powerful a person as a President of the United States. Surely, that is a major step forward for America, and one hopefully not lost on American women, even if it is usually on American men.Read more ›
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