Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Butler: A Witness to History” as Want to Read:
The Butler: A Witness to History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Butler: A Witness to History

3.21  ·  Rating Details ·  2,499 Ratings  ·  483 Reviews
From Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellow Wil Haygood comes a mesmerizing inquiry into the life of Eugene Allen, the butler who ignited a nation's imagination and inspired a major motion picture: Lee Daniels' The Butler, the highly anticipated film that stars six Oscar winners, including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey (honorary and nominee), Jane Fon ...more
Hardcover, 112 pages
Published July 30th 2013 by Atria / 37 INK
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Butler, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Butler

Roots by Alex HaleyKindred by Octavia E. ButlerUncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher StoweIncidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet JacobsThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
Books about American slavery
73rd out of 235 books — 279 voters
Allegiant by Veronica RothClockwork Princess by Cassandra ClareUnited We Spy by Ally CarterPerfect Scoundrels by Ally CarterRequiem by Lauren Oliver
Reasons to Look Forward to 2013
271st out of 526 books — 1,094 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jun 05, 2014 booklady rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, non-fiction, 2013
I can't say I disliked this book but neither was I satisfied by it. From the title I expected, well, either a biography about the butler himself, Eugene Allen, a man in the unique position of having served eight presidents, or, a story of the life that went on around him while he served those eight presidents and first ladies of our country. This book does neither of those things; or rather it delivers those things in postage stamp size, meanwhile slipping in its own agenda.

The book leads off wi
Nov 07, 2013 Orsolya rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, library-2
Not many people are privy to the inner-quarters of the White House. One man, however, was let into this sanctum working as a butler for not one but EIGHT US Presidents: Eugene Allen. Furthermore, Allen was a black man during crucial civil times. Will Haygood, the reporter who centralized Allen and inspired the film, “The Butler”, attempts to reveal the man in, “The Butler: A Witness to History”.

“The Butler” is not a memoir, portrait, or biography and is rather a choppy, mish-mash of storytellin
Aug 06, 2013 Sandy rated it it was ok
This is mainly the story of the making of the film "The Butler." I wanted to story of Eugene Allen, the butler.
Mar 29, 2014 Ruel rated it it was ok
Short and ultimately disappointing read about the man who inspired the title character of The Butler (pardon me, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"). I enjoyed the movie, but this book is nothing more than a rush-to-the-bookstore money grab. There are nice photos of the actual butler, Eugene Allen, with his wife and a few of the presidents he served, along with pictures of the cast. However, there was barely anything added to author Wil Haygood's original article from the Washington Post.

Haygood tries to
Sep 18, 2013 Kelli rated it liked it
I don't get it.
Wait, I understand what is written, the story line is confusing. Is it a real story? Based loosely on a true story? Completely fake?
The beginning was good, it followed a journalist just before Obama won the election, interviewing a butler that had worked with 8 presidents. That's pretty much all you get. No real good stories or anything.
Halfway thru, "The Butler" just ends and then, its just a brief history of blacks in film/history. But that part wasn't even spoken from Eugene.
Lydia Presley
Nov 26, 2013 Lydia Presley rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
There are no words to describe how disappointed I was by The Butler by Wil Haygood. What I was expecting was a book about Eugene Allen - you know, the famous man who was the White House butler and served eight American Presidents. Basically, you know, what was written in the summary of the book. But I should have been forewarned because look at the first line of that summary - it's a lauding of all of the accolades of Wil Haygood. And that's ultimately what The Butler was about - Wil Haywood's s ...more
Jul 17, 2013 Linda rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
I was chosen through the good reads give away program to read this book. The book arrived today (via UPS.) I was very eager to read it. So eager, that I sat down and read the whole thing at once. While the premise of the book is really fascinating: the TRUE story of an African-American man who was born in Virginia and ended up serving in the White House, ultimately as maitre d', under 8 presidents---from Truman to Reagan. He truly had a front row seat to history of all kinds. I think the actual ...more
Haha! Just got in Goodreads First Reads! Can't wait to crack open this book or watch the movie for that matter. :D
I loved this story. It's nonfiction and unsurprisingly very good. It's a short quick read that isn't drab or boring but has depth and information. I liked it a lot. And now I'm definitely going to go watch the movie when it comes out. The butler's life and life at the time was told in a way that it was very easy to relate to.
Feb 08, 2016 fenrir rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Due stelle su cinque perché questo libro non ha ragione di esistere, secondo me.
La storia è interessante ma si risolve praticamente subito e la prima parte del libro sembra più un articolo di giornale che un libro vero e proprio (e non vale come scusante che lo scrittore sia un giornalista!). La seconda parte poi non ha proprio un perché.
Angie Fehl
Feb 04, 2016 Angie Fehl rated it liked it
Author Wil Haygood brings to light the true-life story of Eugene Allen, an African-American man who served as a butler in the White House for 35 years, serving eight different presidents! His time at the White House covered the presidential administrations of Harry Truman through to Ronald Reagan. Allen even shared a birthday with President Ford. :-)

Born in 1911, Eugene Allen grew up working various servant positions within white-owned hotels and private residences. During the Depression he foun
Dick Reynolds
Jul 27, 2013 Dick Reynolds rated it it was ok
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

It’s worth taking a few moments to look at the structure of this slim book about Eugene Allen, a worker in the White House from 1952 to 1986, who served under eight presidents.
After a two page foreword by Lee Daniels, director of the coming movie also titled “The Butler,” we read how author Wil Haygood meets Eugene Allen and his wife, Helene, how he learns of Allen’s early life and being hired to work in the White House, and his viewing of Allen’s memor
Grace  Heyward
Aug 15, 2013 Grace Heyward rated it it was ok
I am so looking forward to seeing the movie, I thought the book, The Butler: A Witness to History would tell me the story of the the butler, George Allen. I hadn't heard of George Allen until the trailer for the movie and I watched the Oprah special on her network, as she and the key actors and director, Lee Daniels discussed the making of the movie. I was disappointed in the book. I thought it was the account of George Allen's story, or even about the articles, author, Wil Haygood wrote and was ...more
Aug 05, 2013 Vicki rated it liked it
Don't read this expecting it to be a blueprint for the upcoming movie. The first third of the book is a brief history of the author's relationship with Eugene Allen, the Butler in the title, which developed into a friendship after Mr. Haygood wrote a newspaper article about Mr. Allen's long White House service. The motivation for the article was the impending 2008 election which had a African-American man running for president. It's an interesting story with some historical information but it's ...more
Feb 18, 2016 Teresa rated it liked it
Slim volume of analysis providing the background to the story behind the making of the film "Lee Daniels' The Butler A Witness to History." From the moment I first saw the trailer, I knew this was a movie I had to see...the sweeping historical viewpoint of one man from the vantage point of the White House. And, it is based on a true story.

I attended the first author presentation of Wil Haygood's on this book last night at Politics & Prose in D.C. It was a packed house. I learned about the d
Cardyn Brooks
Sep 16, 2013 Cardyn Brooks rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is more of a teaser for readers who're looking for more specific details about Eugene Allen's childhood and young adulthood before he worked at the Whitehouse as well as during his 34 years there. The multiple pages of B&W photos are interesting.

Almost half of the text in this book focuses on the arc of how Black people are portrayed in cinema from Birth of A Nation to present day, and Laura Ziskin's valiant efforts to finance The Butler while she was battling cancer.

The Butler: A
Mar 23, 2015 Sue1958 rated it it was amazing
Eugene Allen the man privvy to all things in the White House. I have read the book and then I watched the Movie, I loved the movie more than the book as I found the book a bit choppy in places.

Well worth your time though.
Diana Huguley
Aug 21, 2013 Diana Huguley rated it liked it
Great background information about the job description of a White House butler and the history of Hollywood's contribution to the race debate in America. This book however is not the narrative of the movie screen. It tells how the concept of the movie began and what was done to make it a reality. It has motivated me to see the movie with my family and have a discussion afterwards.
Dec 14, 2013 Naomi rated it did not like it
1.5/5 Stars

Meh, this book was ALL over the place. Instead of expanded focus of the pretty cool life of a very interesting person, the author took only 45 pages to discuss Eugene Allen and another 50 pages to discuss the movie The Butler. Even the chunk of the time he was talking about EA, it was from the author's perspective. WHAT???
Jan 28, 2016 Mom2nine rated it it was ok
Book was a let down. It tells very little of Eugene Allen's very unique experience and seems more of Haygood's opinion of race in our society. It does not make me a bigot to not want to watch a film about Selma or slavery, nor do I know that it is helping this generation. If anything it may numb us to the issues of today. When a 21 yr. old black man, who owns his own home, supports himself, is going to college and is in the Air Nat'l Guard asks what he has to do to prove himself, my heart breaks ...more
Jun 12, 2015 Michael rated it liked it
More of a history of black cinema than a biography of the butler Eugene Allen, but a decent read nonetheless. The book piqued my interest in learning more of the black experience in America.
Jan 18, 2014 Kate rated it it was ok
Every reader should know before reading this book what it is and is not about.

It is not about Eugene Allen as a butler who served 8 presidents.

The first chapter deceptively titled "The Butler's Journey" is about the 18 months when the author Wil Haygood knew Eugene.

The second chapter, titled "Moving Image", is a brief account of the history of black images in Hollywood and an account of how the movie the Butler was produced. My takeaway from that chapter was all sorts of people piled on just to
Rock Angel
(I don't mean to read this book. This is just a place to write my review of the movie.)

Other than his White House tenure, this movie had little in common with Eugene Allen's personal journey. For all I know, he could be an Uncle Tom (meaning no disrespect, the movie did NOT aim to be autobiographical of Mr. Allen).

Instead, the movie was a novel by Lee Daniels using a black butler's White House credentials (serving 8 US presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan) as a canvas for his creative writing o
Mark Hiser
Sep 26, 2013 Mark Hiser rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book, especially since Haygood is from my city and began his book tour at the university where I teach. I did not dislike the book, but it did not satisfy me. I thought so much more could have been written.

The first part of the book briefly tells the story of "The Butler," but I wanted to know so much more about Mr. Allen and his experience working in the White House. The film, which is loosely based on Allen's life, used the civil rights movement and The healing of
Mar 06, 2015 Eliza rated it it was ok
Shelves: cartaceo

Guardare la storia compiersi sotto i proprio occhi. Essere lì, dove i grandi del mondo si incontrano, dove si decidono guerre, attacchi, alleanze. Questa è la storia di Eugene Allen, che da una piantagione di cotone il destino ha portato alla Casa Bianca in qualità di maggiordomo. Un’entità silenziosa e discreta che ha visto passare davanti a se ben otto presidenti, da Harry Truman a Ronald Reagan. The Butler parla di questo e di come, dopo anni di lotta p
Will Mccullough
Oct 16, 2013 Will Mccullough rated it really liked it
Wil Haygood’s The Butler was one of the few books that I’ve read that I could not decide what I thought about it. It tells about a White House butler, Eugene Allen, and his life inside the White House under eight different presidents and over a 36 year period (I believe). However, I often found myself trying to figure out if this book was really a biography or not. It’s not to say that I disliked the book, because I did enjoy it, but I just found it hard to believe that it actually would be cons ...more

If you've read his biography at the end of this book, you know that author, Wil Haygood is a prizewinning writer for the Washington Post. He has won numerous awards for his writing, and after reading this book, I can see why!

Side story: Wil Haygood's idea and search to find this story reminded me of tidbits that I have picked up from John Feinstein over the years. For those of you that don't know, John Feinstein has a wonderful series of books for tweens / teens (boys & girls, al
Nov 17, 2015 Margaret rated it really liked it
I suggest reading this book in conjunction with watching the movie of the same name ("The Butler"). The movie is BASED on the book (emphasis: based) as a number of liberties were taken with the story to make it more dramatic. However, both are very good, and any book or movie that is a witness to the civil rights activities of the 50's and beyond is a good one to read / watch. The book is not "heavy" history - it's a slight book - but is still a really interesting story.
Aug 31, 2016 Kinga rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Pomysł na opisanie takiej, a nie innej historii bardzo dobry. Zawiodłam się jednak na formie jej przekazu. Momentami wydawała się dość nudna i wolno się ją czytało. Na uwagę zasługują na pewno zdjęcia pojawiające się w książce, które podkreślają jej wyjątkowy charakter. Generalnie dość przeciętna książka jeśli chodzi o styl autora. Uważam, że historia głównego bohatera, kamerdynera w Białym Domu, mogłaby być przedstawiona inaczej, w bardziej intrygujący sposób.
Jul 18, 2014 Samantha rated it it was ok
I give this book half marks because it's filled with great information on Black history and the fight for equality but the book reads like a bibliography or source material used to make the movie. The actual story portion of this book was nice but far too short.
It feels like this was just made to make you want to watch the movie...
If you haven't already...
Which I haven't...
But I will.
Danielle Delaire-aspin
When I first bought this book I was surprised by its size. I was expecting a biography of Eugene Allen. I wanted to read his stories of his time serving in the White House. His thoughts and feelings during some of most defining periods of history. I was disappointed. Haywood does a fantastic job of recapping the history of those times and I enjoyed that. I was just left craving more from Allen.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Books2Movies Club: The Butler 5 32 Mar 06, 2016 08:02AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: #99: The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood 1 2 Oct 12, 2013 06:44PM  
  • The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir
  • Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II
  • War of the Bloods in My Veins: A Street Soldier's March Toward Redemption
  • An Angry-Ass Black Woman
  • Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press
  • The Vineyard We Knew—A Recollection of Summers on Martha's Vineyard
  • It Is Well with My Soul: The Extraordinary Life of a 106-Year-Old Woman
  • The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership
  • Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights
  • At All Costs: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Mariners Turned the Tide of World War II
  • And Then Life Happens: A Memoir
  • Prepared for a Purpose: The Inspiring True Story of How One Woman Saved an Atlanta School Under Siege
  • Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea
  • Who Owns the Ice House?: Eight Life-Lessons From an Unlikely Entrepreneur
  • Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America
  • Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation
  • The Emancipation of Robert Sadler: The Powerful True Story of a Twentieth-Century Plantation Slave
  • The People's Place: Soul Food Restaurants and Reminiscences from the Civil Rights Era to Today

Share This Book

“controversial performance as a corrupt detective in Training Day—would be seen holding the Oscar for best actor, almost four decades after Poitier’s” 1 likes
More quotes…