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J.B. West Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies (With: Mary Lynn Kotz) (1973)Description / Buy at Amazon

J.B. West the author of Upstairs at the White House was considered the “the most powerful man in Washington next to the president.” He served as the chief usher of the White House from 1957 to 1969. Born in Afton, Iowa, West attended Creston High School, and in 1939, he moved to Washington, where he served in the Veterans Administration. He began his work at the white house as an assistant chief usher and later got a promotion when the previous Chief Usher retired. His responsibilities included being in charge of all the activities in the Executive Residence. He oversaw the power transition after the JF Kennedy assassination. After his retirement in 1969, West wrote a memoir titled Upstairs at the White House. The book became a bestseller and was later mentioned as one of the most useful memoirs ever written by a White House staffer. West died in 1983 due to respiratory failure.

Upstairs at the White House is an intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with USA first families through the eyes of a man who spent almost thirty years in their midst. Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, West served with American presidents through Richard Nixon, even though he was only there for several weeks with Nixon before his retirement. As Chief Usher, he is responsible for almost everything that happens with the families working hand in hand with the first ladies. He assists in creating their schedules, decorating the white house, hosting events, and managing transitions between presidents.

J.B. West writes so many interesting details about how the white house staff can be a headache to manage because they are white house and the president’s employees, and they will have their jobs even when the current president exits the office to the differing personalities of the first ladies. Likewise, the White House’s major events changed when presidents changed. Some presidents and their families preferred large ceremonial affairs (the Eisenhower’s), while others preferred more private gatherings (the Kennedys). And it was intriguing to see how food, wine, state dinners, and entertainment were managed behind the scenes. However, the day a ham vanished from the kitchen, and a staff member was suspected of stealing it until the rotting bones were discovered behind the cupboards, having been carried off the kitchen counter by rodents, are fascinating details you won’t find anywhere else.

Learning about the White House’s budget and finances was also intriguing. Kennedy was constantly worried that they did not appear to be spending much more money than previous presidents. After Jacqueline Kennedy exhausted the redecorating budget (each term, around $50,000 is allocated for White House décor) in the first 30 days of her husband’s presidency, she was forced to find alternative means of funding her ambitious plans for the White House. Upon Truman’s inauguration, Congress granted an expense account since he lacked the personal wealth to cover the cost.

Of course, as time went on, life inside the White House transformed as well. Eleanor Roosevelt went alone across Washington, D.C., daily after FDR appointed West. Truman, who resided in Blair House while the White House was being renovated, strolled unaccompanied to/from his office until an assassination attempt, after which the Secret Service always accompanied the president and his family. Overall, Upstairs at the White House tells of J.B. West sharing his experiences running the USA president’s official residence. His pleasant and conversational tone makes the overall story a delightful read. He describes each of the first ladies, from Pat Nixon to Eleanor Roosevelt, in detail and courteous terms with some hints of scandal or gossip.

West also focuses on the important logistics, visitors, and funny tales that happened during his service. The restoration under Jackie Kennedy and the reconstruction under President Truman. There are very few references to violence involving the JF Kennedy assassination and the Cold War and a non-detailed explanation of the violent death of a secret service agent during the assassination attempt.

The author also includes authentic black-and-white photos that focus most on the interiors of the white house. In summary, Upstairs at the White House is a highly recommended book for anyone who wants to learn about the first ladies and the history of the White House.

Book Series In Order » Authors » J.B. West

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