- Hardcover: 531 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (August 29, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415923204
- ISBN-13: 978-0415923200
- Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 1.8 x 10.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #609,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Real Life at the White House: 200 Years of Daily Life at America's Most Famous Residence 1st Edition
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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."
"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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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.
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). But frankly, I would have been more interested in an account of what really goes on, day to day, in the White House, and especially the perspective of the people who work in close proximity to the families living in the White House. To my mind, 'real life' has to do with real people, really living. If anyone asked me about 'real life' in my house, I would not tell them about wallpaper, plates, clothing budgets and household repairs. I'd talk about people and how they related to each other and what they did from day to day, and I'd give more detail about special occasions than just who was there and how much it cost.
In the end, I feel like I know three things about living in the White House: it has become more and more like a prison; you can expect to shake hands a LOT if you're the president or first lady; there's no privacy. Oh, and also that being president is likely to take years off your life, if it doesn't outright kill you.
I felt that the stories were told from a distance; that the information was probably gleaned from already-published books, with no new research. I didn't have the sense that the writers tried to find first-hand accounts from people who had served in the White House in the 1800s, nor that they had interviewed personally anyone who worked in the White House and could talk about the nuts and bolts of day-to-day life. How, for example, did the WH go from being open to everyone - the people's house - to being so tightly secure that there are spy-holes in the doors of the Oval Office so that the president can't so much as hiccup without someone peeking in on him? In the section on the Clintons, we get two examples from Mrs Clinton about how the staff just sort of appeared and took over when she wanted to cook something personally for her daughter (so, finally, a real 'domestic' detail of family relationships being affected by conditions in the White House, albeit a story that was probably already in the public domain). How did it get to the point that in the private quarters, the First Lady can't even walk into the kitchen to make an omelette without staff bustling in and taking over? And why does the President put up with it? Why does it take 40 vehicles to protect the president if he wants to leave the White House and go for an early-morning jog?
We were told simply how it is, but we didn't get the background of how it got to be that way, and why no president or first lady ever put his or her foot down and said, 'this is ridiculous.' I would like to have heard the reasoning of the Secret Service in being so paranoid about the president's security that he has to have a panic button in the toilet, for heaven's sake: do they really expect an assassin to come up through the toilet bowl?
So I'm still waiting for a book that tells me about 'real life' and not things that I feel I could glean from newspapers or other widely-available public sources.
If you've never read about the White House or life in it, then this is a reasonable place to start. At the very least, it will help you put all the presidents in order in your mind, and give you a broad overview of who the presidents were - I really felt it was more about that than about 'real life' in the White House, despite repeated themes of painting and repairs and rats and redecorating that recurred so predictably as the book became more formulaic.
For people who have read widely in this area, this book will probably tell them nothing new and may even feel like a waste of time.