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Real Life at the White House: 200 Years of Daily Life at America's Most Famous Residence Hardcover – August 29, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the White House, the Whitcombs provide an irresistible chronological overview of daily life in the presidential residence. Divided into 42 chapters representing each succeeding administration, this survey is brimming with fun facts, tantalizing tidbits, and memorable anecdotes detailing two centuries of domestic bliss and strife in the White House. From George Washington, who chose the sight and initiated work on the presidential mansion, to Bill Clinton, whose well-documented White House escapades titillated and scandalized the nation, each individual president has contributed to the mystique of the most readily recognized home in the U.S. Together with scores of drawings, portraits, and photographs, the breezy text chronicles the significant physical, social, and emotional changes wrought by each First Family as they sought to personalize daily life in the White House. A broadly appealing slice of Americana. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Fascinating.It's a rich source of information about 40 of our presidents with dozens of photographs that give new meaning to in-house."
- "Tampa Tribune
"A genuine page-turner.Both wise and witty, Real Life at the White House is perhaps the most delightful 'house' tour you'll ever take."
-"Victoria Magazine
"Anecdotes are very much the point of Real Life at the White House, which relates each successive family's experience there."
-"New York Daily News
..."a lively account of private lives being lived in a public place.The Whitcombs have brought history and architecture together in a very human story of an enduring monument to American democracy."
.." .a lively history of the families who made their homes here and the ways in which each put a personal stamp - for good or for bad - on the building."
- "San Antonio Express News

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 534 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (August 29, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415923204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415923200
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 7.5 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. J. Allen on November 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I read almost every book on the White House and First Families and this truly is one of the best! A wonderful history of how our First families lived and worked in that most historic home! So very many pictures in this book are never before seen! The authors have truly done homework, talked to all the right people and have made a volume sure to be a reference book for all time! Great work! Great book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Father-daughter team John and Claire Whitcomb have woven a tapestry of American history from the perspective of the White House and the nation's first families. Their command of detail is impressive: not only the familiar trivia about decorations and furniture that you can find in other White House histories, but how each first family related to the staff, how each president financed the home's operation (paying until modern times out of his own pocket for the staff, public entertainment, and refurbishing), and how the White House has both changed and changed with the nation's concept of the connection between the people, their leaders, and their house.
I have been reading about American history and presidential trivia for three decades and, instead of running into the same familiar overused anecdotes on which so many books draw, this book contained educational and entertaining surprises on every page. The book portrays our presidents as human beings, and tells a story not only about their habits and routines, but about their emotions and their lives in and out of the public eye. The image that struck me the most was President Pierce--mourning his son's recent death--spending his first night as president nearly alone in the White House, sleeping "on a mattress on the floor, wrapped in his coat to keep warm," because his belongings were still packed, his grieving wife had not yet arrived in Washington, the Fillmores had not quite moved out, and the furniture was in disarray from the inaugural celebration. The book is full of such human anecdotes. I could hardly put it down.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book full of information about the different Presidents and their families and how they adjusted to living in the White House.
There is a lot of information about earlier, less known Presidents, and I enjoyed reading those chapters.
I was also interested to read about all the pets over the years.
Every family seemed to have all sorts of animals.
It was interesting to read about the First Ladies and their "quirks". Mary Todd Lincoln ran up clothing bills that she tried to hide---just like Jackie.
Other stories that I found amusing were that Nixon would not allow guards or policemen to speak to him or Mrs. Nixon. Betty Ford couldn't understand why they ignored her greetings until this was explained to her.
Ronald Reagan served tea to Prince Charles who did not touch it because, as he explained later, he didn't know what to do with the little bag!
Many such amusing stories made this a truly enjoyable book. I recommend to anyone wanting to know about living in the White House.
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Format: Paperback
Since this is the first book I've ever read on the subject, I was not aware of the factual errors that other reviewers have noted. On the other hand, there were places where I wondered whether the book had an editor who was awake or sober (dangling participles; sentences that had no conceivable relationship to the paragraph they were in; repeated prepositions not noticed during revising or proofreading, events alluded to without explanation and then discussed in full later, etc.). I've returned the book to the library, so I can't give each page and mistake.

I was disappointed in the book especially when it got closer to modern times, because often it seemed to be just hitting the highlights of the life of a particular president or the main events - and very few, at that - of his presidency. I was really interested in 'real life in the White House' and felt that it got formulaic after awhile: the arrival of the new first family; kitchen arrangements; prices of parties; who redecorated what part of the house and in what way. OK, fine... but are choices of wallpaper and furniture and how much first ladies spent on dresses 'real life at the White House'?

Almost entirely missing was the 'real life' led by the people who were in the White House from one administration to the next. I mean the servants and other staff. Sure, we heard about Secret Service agents and there's the occasional quote from a chef who is fed up with low-brow presidential taste in meals or an anecdote about how servants behaved, and repeated anecdotes about dishes (sometimes the same information, as though the two writers didn't consult each other about whether they'd already explained something in another chapter).
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Format: Hardcover
200 years of daily life at the White House are revealed in an involving pictorial history of the home lives of each presidency. Real Life at the White House is more than just a probe of presidential families; it provides in-depth White House history and examines the role of the First Lady as it's changed over the decades. An intriguing presentation.
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