Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

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In this New York Times bestseller, the White House chief usher for nearly three decades offers a behind-the-scenes look at America’s first families.
 
J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and, with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, as well as their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state.
 
J. B. West, whom Jackie Kennedy called “one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met,” provides an absorbing, one-of-a-kind history of life among the first ladies. Alive with anecdotes ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt’s fascinating political strategies to Jackie Kennedy’s tragic loss and the personal struggles of Pat Nixon, Upstairs at the White House is a rich account of a slice of American history that usually remains behind closed doors.
 

Review

“I think he is one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met.” —Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

“If he were at court he would be called Head Chamberlain. . . . He finds solutions to so many problems with quiet efficiency.” —Lady Bird Johnson in A White House Diary\

“This memoir by the former Chief Usher (i.e. majordomo) of the White House is several Truman-balconies above all those others.” — Kirkus Reviews
 

About the Author

J. B. West (1912–1983), chief usher of the White House—or executive director of the executive mansion and grounds—was once called “the most powerful man in Washington next to the president.” Discreet and witty, he supervised the large permanent staff that provided for every personal want and need for six presidents and first ladies, including at state dinners, weddings, and funerals, redecorating the facilities for each family and tending to every special request. He served first as assistant to the chief usher and then as chief usher after retiring as a high-level civilian officer of the US Navy. A native Iowan, his White House tenure (1941–1969) followed a career in the Veterans Administration. Upstairs at the White House was published in 1973 and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for months, with more than five hundred extraordinarily positive reviews, editions in seven languages, and more than two million copies sold in the US across hardcover and paperback formats.

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4.6 out of 54.6 out of 5
6,898 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Lajitasgal
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book!
Reviewed in the United States 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... See more
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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Carole P. Roman
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting book about the families that occupied in the White ...
Reviewed in the United States 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... See more
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.
88 people found this helpful
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M. A Newman
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
History through the eyes of J.B. West
Reviewed in the United States on March 2, 2018
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... See more
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.
61 people found this helpful
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Jeff
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Superficial Look at the First Families
Reviewed in the United States on November 28, 2018
I first read J.B. West''s book when I was a teenager, some forty years ago, and enjoyed it. Rereading it now, however, I find it to be very superficial. We really learn very little, and West writes in so dispassionate a style that even the most dramatic events of his... See more
I first read J.B. West''s book when I was a teenager, some forty years ago, and enjoyed it. Rereading it now, however, I find it to be very superficial. We really learn very little, and West writes in so dispassionate a style that even the most dramatic events of his tenure--such as the JFK assassination--appear to carry the same import as the most mundane. Still, it''s nice to get a glimpse of such neglected figures as Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower, and West''s portrait of the remarkable Jacqueline Kennedy almost does her justice.
35 people found this helpful
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Amazon Reader
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A wonderful, readable, entertaining look at First Ladies and their families
Reviewed in the United States on July 13, 2017
J.B. West was Chief Usher at the White House through the administrations of FDR to the beginning of Richard Nixon''s tenure. In the beginning the Chief Usher was the man in charge of ushering in visitors to see the President. But, in the modern day he is basically the... See more
J.B. West was Chief Usher at the White House through the administrations of FDR to the beginning of Richard Nixon''s tenure. In the beginning the Chief Usher was the man in charge of ushering in visitors to see the President. But, in the modern day he is basically the over-all director of the White House. Somewhat like the butler in Downton Abbey, he directs each of the various heads of departments who help the First Lady run the White House as a home, historical museum and office for the President. He works very closely with each First Lady and somehow magically makes everything she desires come to fruition. He also is in charge of a rather large budget but he still must budget the money. J.B. West seemed to enjoy and like each First Lady. Some the reader can tell he favors over others but his respect for them all is clear. It was interesting to learn that Mamie Eisenhower hated the furniture from the B. Altman department store which was chosen by a committee after the rebuilding of the White House in the Truman administration. She was appalled that it was so historically poor and she wished to make the White House an historically accurate home but she was stymied by the budget restraints. And then Jacqueline Kennedy came in and galvanized a private donor plan and was able to do what Mamie wanted to do. It was also interesting to note that President John Kennedy was very involved in the restoration. He also gives some background into their private lives with subtle grace by divulging that Eleanor Roosevelt slept in a single bed in a room that had been a "dressing room" previously and her best friends were permanent houseguests sleeping in adjacent bedrooms and that Mamie Eisenhower immediately requested a king-size bed for herself and Ike. Overall it is a wonderful, readable, entertaining look at First Ladies and their families through the eyes of a very familiar servant.
21 people found this helpful
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M. E. (Murphy) Waggoner
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Compare to the movie "The Butler"
Reviewed in the United States 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.... See more
“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.
89 people found this helpful
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Cynthia K. Robertson
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting stories...
Reviewed in the United States on 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... See more
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.
19 people found this helpful
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Lance B. Hillsinger
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Four stars it is.
Reviewed in the United States on June 11, 2020
Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies is the autobiography of J.B West. West served in the White House, as chief usher, and in other positions, to five First Ladies. His autobiography is chronological and is split into sections devoted to each... See more
Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies is the autobiography of J.B West. West served in the White House, as chief usher, and in other positions, to five First Ladies. His autobiography is chronological and is split into sections devoted to each presidency.

To help tell his story, West employed Mary Lynn Kotz, a journalist. Her involvement was significant enough to have her (in smaller typeface) credited as a co-author. No doubt Kotz brought her journalistic skills in helping to organize the structure of each chapter, providing historical background, etc. Correspondingly there is a subtle journalistic feel to the narrative and less of a feel of a true autobiography.

Upstairs at the White House contains many, many details, from what color walls were painted, to the hiring and firing of staff, how the children of Presidents behaved, to personal habits of the Presidents and their wives. Your reviewer would have liked more of the later and less decorating and menu planning. Some readers right finding the constant decorating and redecorating of the White House interesting. For this reviewer, it became repetitive.

So how many stars does Upstairs at the White House deserve? Personally, just three, but that is more about the subject matter than any fault of the authors. Much of the chief usher’s job concerns decoration, menu planning, etc. The authors shouldn’t lose a star simply because they accurately portrayed the chief usher’s job, so four stars it is.
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Top reviews from other countries

music lover
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fascinating read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 6, 2021
What a wonderful insight into the internal workings of the White House and the amount of work it took to keep things running smoothly. The book gives many interesting personal details about the Presidents and First Ladies and how they liked things done.
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pam cheshire
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A hidden gem
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 25, 2020
Purchased this book after it was recommended on the West Wing Weekly podcast & thoroughly enjoyed reading Mr West’s memoir about his time at the real White House & the five First Ladies he served. It’s an easy read & a joy for anyone interested in recent (20th century)...See more
Purchased this book after it was recommended on the West Wing Weekly podcast & thoroughly enjoyed reading Mr West’s memoir about his time at the real White House & the five First Ladies he served. It’s an easy read & a joy for anyone interested in recent (20th century) American history.
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ethel hillier
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A ‘must read’
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 17, 2021
A wonderfully captivating insight into the historical White House I enjoyed every chapter. A lot of events are in my memory and so interesting to read of the other side of the stories
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Pat R
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fascinating background
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 29, 2021
So many little known facts and a welcome expose of characters who spent their lives in their husband’s shadow. An enjoyable read
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Jen
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Loved seeing the workings of a political landmark and the families of the Presidents of the USA
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 4, 2015
I knew very little about the women married to the Presidents and this book was really interesting and enlightening. I liked the author''s clarity and attention to detail. He reveals no secrets, but paints a vivid picture of the First Ladies.
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Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale

Upstairs lowest at outlet online sale the White House: My Life with the First Ladies sale