An extremely entertaining book on the comings and goings at the White House. To be honest, this book, though it focuses exclusively on the domestic arrangements of Presidents Roosevelt through Nixon, this is also a good depiction of how any federal agency functions. There are people who cultivate loyalty with their staff (the Trumans and Kennedys), who tend to leave all too soon. There are the somewhat crazy eccentrics (Mamie Eisenhower, who once mistook a bottle of ink for Vick’s vapor rub) who require looking after, a lot of looking after. The difficult prima donas (LBJ and his quest for a shower that resembled in effects a car wash). The over taxed and under focused (the Roosevelts). The various interpersonal relationships by the staff are also very familiar. Like all government agencies there is never enough money, pointless rules to follow (all White House china damaged must be smashed and tossed off Hayne’s Point), and daily the staff must perform miracles in as inefficient manner as possible. Pay is never consistent with private industry.
J.B. West presided over the circus that was the White House for 28 years and with the pre-Reagan civil service pension was able to retire after only 30 years of government service. This book is very anecdotal. It is clear his favorite occupant was Jacqueline Kennedy whose restoration of the White House occupied Mr. West for several years and is very much always on West’s mind whether I’m the White House or not.
West was only on hand for two months of the Nixon White House, but for those of us who know how that story ends, there are a number of ironic passages. Involving electronic devices and Nixon’s determination to do without those of his predecessors. The Nixons also revealed their mean spiritedness by trying to eradicate evidence of their Kennedy predecessors. Yes, all of this would catch up when these particular chickens came home to roost five years later. One wonders what he and any of the other members of staff depicted in the book would have made of Donald Trump.
This book was published in the early 70s and there are a number of mores that probably will be incomprehensible to anyone born after 1980 (does anyone understand the difference between black and white tie anymore?). The intricacies of rail travel are another. These are some of the more charming aspects of the book. J.B. West is an insightful and charming observer of the history of the presidential mansion.