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Showing 1-10 of 2,193 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 2,880 reviews
on February 5, 2014
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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on July 6, 2014
“The secret was loyalty to the White House and to the Presidency, rather than to whoever happens to be occupying the office for four years, or eight.”
J.B. West, Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies

This was published in 1973 by J.B. West, who began work at the White House as assistant to the chief usher in 1941, later became the chief usher and 'retired' in 1969. I believe he was the person in the movie "The Butler" who denied the workers of color at the White House equal pay until the Johnson administration, but I would have to rewatch "The Butler" to be sure.

Like "The Butler," West describes life in the White House from the start of his career during FDR's residency until the beginning of the Nixon administration. Unlike "The Butler," West worked more directly with the First Ladies and details of the mansion and management of the employees that served the mansion rather than working solely for the president. Thus, if you are interested in knowing the habits and personalities of the First Ladies or the details of interior decorating, this is your book.

Of course, we also see West's side of the deaths of FDR and JFK, the illnesses of DDE, and the relationships between incoming and outgoing presidents. But in this book there is more about the upkeep of the structure of the mansion, which was gutted and completely rebuilt on the inside during Truman's office as it was discovered when Truman's bathtub began to fall through the floor. There is also a lot of information about the First Ladies management skills, decorating preferences, relationships with their spouses and the behaviors of the children. We find out which presidents slept in the same bed with their wives and which did not.

West discusses the difficulties of meeting the needs of family guests versus the needs of diplomatic guests. He provides amusing anecdotes about Winston Churchill, who must have been quite a character, and Queen Elizabeth, who sounds more down to earth in West's view than I would have imagined. He also tells of the elaborate plans that must happen behind the scenes so that White House events came off without a snag.

While West declares an allegiance to the mansion first and foremost, he doesn't throw dirt about the First Families. Granted this book was published in the '70s and there was still a certain respect of the First Family at that time by the press and the opposing political party, as opposed to the dirt that is slung in all directions at this time. He takes an objective view of the personalities of the Presidents and First Ladies, describing them with respect even when he struggled to meet their demanding requirements.

Not the best written book, and I eagerly looked forward to reading about the next administration being somewhat bored with household details such as furnishings, china and carpets of the previous. However, if you are interested in the history of the mansion itself, this would be a worthwhile read.
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on May 8, 2017
I'm usually not a big fan of non-fiction books, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one! The author has a very personable way of writing that made me feel like I was having a nice, informal dinner with him and his wife. I also appreciated the fact that this wasn't a tell-all type of book that tried to show the reader the ugly side of the occupants of the White House. Instead, it struck me as being extremely truthful and down to earth. It was written with great warmth and respect. As a result Mr. West has shown the first ladies and their families as human beings, and made them very accessible to those of us who will never find ourselves serving in any comparable position. I'm old enough to remember the Eisenhower presidency, and to have lived through the Cuban missile crisis and Kennedy assassination. As a native Texas I remember very well Lyndon Johnson's presidency and his big personality, as well as Lady Bird's highly-successful beautification efforts. But these weren't the only reasons the book made me quite nostalgic. We now live in an age where everyone seems determined to undermine each other and treat opponents as sub-human. It was good to remember the times when opponents could duke it out during the day but then go out for dinner or drinks, or have a meal at each other's homes while the kids played together. I wish Mr. West was still alive so I could hope he would see this review and know that his stories have touched my heart.
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Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the author tried not to acquire any secrets about the presidential families he worked with. J.B. West started working in the White House as assistant to the Chief Usher during WWII and then served as Chief Usher himself under four presidents. The "usher" was originally a butler who ushered guests in to see the president. Today he's more of a CEO, but the title remains. As West says, the White House is a government agency pretending to be a family home and the staff are civil servants pretending to be family servants. He never forgot that his loyalty was to the White House, not to the family living there, and he was the consummate diplomat. When he was asked which First Lady was his favorite he always smiled and replied, "They were ALL my favorites."

This is a charming book filled with funny, touching stories about the eccentric Roosevelts, the down-to-earth Trumans, the sophisticated Kennedys, and the politically savvy Johnsons. But don't look for any dirt. West's job was to help the President's family adjust to living in the White House and (as far as possible) to mold White House routine to fit the individual families. He refused to be a spy and that was the secret to his success in this difficult position.

Anyone interested in American history will enjoy his unique insights into the evolution of the White House as a national tradition and treasure. West's first-hand accounts of the gutting and rebuilding during the Truman administration and of Jackie Kennedy's efforts to collect period furniture for the state rooms are fascinating. This is one of my favorite books.
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VINE VOICEon October 19, 2016
J.B. West made a career of working in the White House, and Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies with Mary Lynn Kotz is a fascinating look at the inner workings of the White House. West began in 1941, working under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and ended in 1969 as Chief Usher, retiring soon after Richard Nixon began his first term. Kotz wrote this book based on interviews with West.

The job of the Chief Usher is a very important one, and the White House serves as a museum, as a home, as an office, and as a command center. The job brings him mainly into contact with the first ladies, and West met with them almost every morning. During West's tenure, he served under Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon. West doesn't really dish the dirt on any presidency, and many of the stories that he tells are already known. Also, current employees are now forbidden from writing such books. But what I found fascinating about the first ladies is how they reacted and related to their husbands. The sections on Jackie Kennedy were especially interesting in that she not only did so much for the White House, but she was such a private person throughout her life. During West's 28 years, he helped plan several weddings, the funerals of two sitting presidents, state banquets, private dinners, inaugurations, the gutting and restoration of the White House, and a major redecoration project.

I also enjoyed reading about West's impressions of the first couples. Eleanor and Franklin “had the most separate relationship I have ever seen between man and wife. And the most equal.” The Truman's were perhaps the most grounded of first couples and “they asked for very little...When a butler or doorman or usher would enter the room, the Trumans would introduce him to whoever happened to be sitting in the room, even if it were a King or a Prime Minister.” Mamie Eisenhower was high-drama and high-maintenance and ran the White House with military precision. Yet her staff loved her because she took such an interest in their personal lives. Jackie Kennedy tried to keep her family life entirely separate from the political White House. And although Lyndon and Lady Bird came into the White House with great expectations, they left greatly dispirited as a result of Vietnam. Whether these women wanted to be first lady or not, all of them grew into the job. It was also fun to read about the various children and grandchildren in each family.

Upstairs at the White House also has lots of tidbits and trivia, much of which I did not know. For instance, “Liquor was quite an expense during the Kennedy years—primarily because we had to stop serving bootleg whiskey. During the Eisenhowers, the White House very discreetly accepted bottles of confiscated distilled spirits from the General Services Administration at no cost.” This book also contains dozens of pictures of the White House from the West years. Unfortunately, the map of the upstairs rooms were missing the room numbers in the Kindle edition.
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on March 7, 2017
it was actually comforting reading this book. this book confirms that what is happening with obama and trump is not very different from what presidents and their wives faced over the last 80 years! not great news, but certainly reassuring in a broad sense. if were still here reading books about the times of Roosevelt's white house, then in 80 more years, someone will be reading something similar about whats happening today in the white house. in other words, we are 'very likely going to make it, folks. 👍 Great Read! highly recommend! especially if you want to gain perspective on the Presidency and what happens in the White House.
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on April 16, 2017
Chief Usher J.B. West, shares his unique view of the family lives of presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Nixon while they lived in the White House. It is a rare personal account of the inner workings of our country's mansion.
Highly recommend this book to anyone curious about these presidents as family men, or the behind the scenes working of the White House. Doubt if anyone could write such a book today about the most current residents, with restrictions that may now apply, but it would be interesting.
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on September 7, 2016
I say, if you are interested in a subject and you find a non-fiction book, especially one that is well written – go for it. Such is the case with J.B. West’s UPSTAIRS AT THE WHITE HOUSE. Mr. West, Chief Usher, served at the helm of the inner workings at the White House and for 5 First Ladies from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jackie Kennedy and briefly for Pat Nixon (1957-1969).  He was not only well regarded by his peers but by the Presidents and First Ladies whom he served.

This book provides an in-depth look at how each of these women brought a different character to the White House and how their influence and style affected both the general public, the staff, as well as their husbands and families. Additionally, there is a great deal of history shown from another perspective, that of inside the house while world events are going on as well as tables being set, sheets changed, rooms set up for visiting dignitaries, etc.

Note: after reading the book I was saddened to learn that William Hamilton, Storeroom Manager, who served in the White House for fifty-five years, said that he sued J.B. West for unequal pay and was quoted in an article stating this among other things about his time there.

So, while West paints a rosy picture, clearly the issue of racial inequality is something that he skimmed over.  
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on September 20, 2016
"Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies" by J. B. West and Mary Lynn Kotz is a fascinating book. Mr. West was the chief usher of the White House, that is the executive director of the executive mansion and grounds. He retired in 1969 and this book was published in 1973 so it is new only to me.

Mr. West joined the White House Usher staff during the Roosevelt administration and retired shortly after the Nixons came to live there. His memories are warm, humorous, gentle and loving. His love was for the House itself as he served Presidents and First Ladies from both political parties. He is always respectful of the women who held the unelected, un-appointed, and untrained for highest volunteer position in the nation.

Much of the book is about the refurbishing and redecorating that each woman did to the family rooms of the White House. I was interested in the turn my thoughts took while reading about that. I found myself looking at my own home, my own style, and wondering what I would do, what colors would I pick, what would I choose to make a very formal, national monument into my home for a period of time?

I am ready for the next book in the series, ready to hear about the next set of ladies who lived in and decorated that house. I don’t know if the next chief usher has written yet. Maybe he won’t. I wish he would and with the same care and love of his subject that Mr. West shows in Upstairs at the White House.
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on June 11, 2017
Interesting book about the families that occupied in the White House from Presidents Roosevelt to Nixon. JB West, the head usher, gives an insider's look at the First Ladies and the way they made the house their own. Fascinating on many levels, it's a unique microcosm of our changing society. The shift in social status and the way things are done, as the Roosevelt's upper crust lifestyle exits, compared to the bread and butter of Harry Truman's middle America. Mami Eisenhower's velvet gloves fifties style housewife, contrasts Jackie Kennedy's upper crust finishing school that brought a new elegance to the White House. Everything is lovingly detailed from the strange requests, the guest and parties, births and deaths, making each First Family unique. This book concentrates on women thrust into a peculiar position, torn from their regular lives, to create the illusion of normalcy for their families, all while being a role model for a country that has not quite figured out exactly what they are supposed to do.
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