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Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies
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Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,724 ratings  ·  324 reviews
Coward McCann & Geoghan,1st ptg
ebook, 381 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Open Road Media (first published January 1st 1973)
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Hope R
Through this book the reader is allowed a glimpse into how first ladies of the past have publically supported their presidential husbands and how they chose to use their influence. This book gives insight into who several of the first ladies of the twentieth century were as individuals and how their personalities and values contributed to the way they filled their roles within the While House. As a reader I felt like I was learning history by chatting with someone who knew them personally. In th ...more
Mandy
James Bernard West – or J.B. as he was known – was born in 1912 and died in 1983. Following a career as a civilian officer in the US Navy and then in the Veterans Association, he served as Chief Usher in the White House from 1941 to his retirement in 1969. The post of Chief Usher may not sound very important, but in effect it meant that he ran the White House and was once called “the most powerful man in Washington next to the President”. He was responsible for everything that happened and was a ...more
Caroline
This book was an unexpected treat. My favorite period in American history is the mid-20th century, which is right where this book starts off. Chief Usher J.B. West begins working at the White House while the Roosevelt family was living there and he shares snippets of his experiences with first families through the early Nixon administration. The authors did a marvelous job of taking me back in time and making the White House come to life. Not once did they overstep or over-share any details that ...more
Jean Poulos
According to my records I read this book in 1973, but I must admit I cannot remember one fact from the book. So I decided to re-read it as it was re-published again in 2014. The book was on the New York Times best seller list in 1974 and again in 2014.

The book is about J. B. West’s 28 years career (1941-1969) as assistant, and then Chief Usher at the White House. The book covers the time from the Roosevelt (FDR) to the early part of the Nixon Presidency

The Chief Usher is the manager of the Execu
...more
Patty
Anyone who likes history and our presidents or is curious about life inside the White House will enjoy this book. It was a fascinating look at our first ladies, mostly, but also gave some glimpses of our leaders Roosevelt through the first month of the Nixon administration.
Launette Shaw
I really loved this book, it was fascinating. I would have given it 5 stars except it wasn't a page turning novel. I now want to read about the last 5 president's wives. I'm not sure I would be as impressed with their character.
Lori
I would give this a 4.5. a very interesting book by J.B. West. written years ago. Mr. West was an usher at the White House from 1941-1969. His job was to be of service an usher to the first ladies. he began in 1941 With Eleanor Roosevelt. he was very good at describing each first lady.Mrs.Roosevelt was described as "always on the go and very busy" back then she thought nothing of walking by herself around Washington D.C. or driving herself when she wanted to go somewhere much to the protests of ...more
Bev
This is an absolutely fascinating, delightful book by the Chief Usher of the White House from FDR to the beginning days of the Nixon administration. It really has very little to do with politics and concentrates on the running of the White House and the various First Ladies who reigned there. I learned so much, like how much of the cost of entertaining is the responsibility of the President himself. He gets free rent and an amount for the upkeep of the house, but the cost of many of those lavish ...more
Sally Smith
This was a very interesting book to read. J.B. West was usher and then Chief Usher in the White House from 1941 - 1969 with memories from the Roosevelts to the Nixons. He basically ran the White House, especially the East Wing, which was the domain of the First Ladies. His insights into their personalities, marriages, and other relationships were very interesting. I've never been a big Jackie Kennedy fan, but my esteem of her went up and my esteem of Mamie Eisenhower went down. I loved reading a ...more
Karen
Chief Usher JB West takes the reader through they lives of the First Lady's of the White House. Starting with the Roosevelt's and ending when the Nixon's came to the White House. His dealt with setting up everything from decorations and renovations, to social gatherings and inaugurations. He was the most important person in the White House next to the president. His telling of the behind the scenes workings of the White House and his witty manner make this a enjoyable piece of history, without a ...more
Mark Desrosiers
Most treatments of the Cold War and Vietnam eras conjure up images of stern-faced baldies scribbling strident tendentious histories. Here's something different: a delightful, gossipy memoir of the White House from FDR through Nixon, written by its Chief Usher through most of those years. Although it obviously includes its share of pathos, you mostly get a sense of fun and strangeness: really it's about a bunch of odd families moving into this gigantic house and redecorating it (or gutting it, in ...more
Carol
This was an enjoyable book to read. The author shares his experiences working in the White House with 6 of our former First Ladies. An inside look in the White House from the Roosevelts to the Nixons.
Kathryn
I don't think I'm going to get around to reading about three of the four first ladies any time soon, but I did read the section on Eleanor Roosevelt and thoroughly enjoyed it!!! I was expecting it to be a bit dry, or at least terribly hard to get "into" with the insider perspective but NO, that insider perspective is what made it so charming and engrossing and West CAN write! I loved all the little personal insights West (as Chief Usher at the White house) had on the first lady (and her husband! ...more
Katie Wilson
It is not easy to write about the Presidency and not get political. West does just that however, and while some might be looking for more of a political slant, West does not, and will not provide it. This book must be read for what it is, an account of the presidents and their families who occupied the White House for the years that West was in service there. West’s loyalty as a White House Butler is to the White House and the Presidency itself, not to the individual men or their families.

Read F
...more
Leslie
Really enjoyable read, and interesting look at the First Families from the Roosevelts through the Nixons. J.B. West was Chief Usher at the White House and provides an insider, non-gossipy view of the daily operations of life for the President and his family.
Rachel
4 1/2 stars

Reviewed for www.compassbookratings.com

Overall Review:
Chief Usher J. B. West shares his experiences running the official residence of the President in Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies. West's tone is pleasant and conversational and the book is an easy and delightful read. West describes each of the First Ladies, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Pat Nixon, in great detail and only in courteous terms, with little hint of gossip or scandal. Instead, West focuses on th
...more
Sharon A.
This was just a delight -- one of those books you come across that just unexpectedly charms you. Mr. West writes with respect and affection for all the first families, and I especially loved the insight into history from an unexpected source, and the little details into their lives that were so touching.

I found myself tearing up as the White House was outfitted for the funeral of President Kennedy. I don't know that I ever knew that Jacqueline Kennedy had miscarried just months before his death
...more
Kim
I really enjoyed this book--it focuses more on the First Ladies instead of their more famous husbands. You don't really think about what it takes to make a historical building such as the White House a home for the first families, but this book gives you the scoop on how each First Lady achieved it. You learn a few of the more interesting personal foibles of the families and some of the more crazy sounding requests J.B. West had to deal with during his tenure as head usher.

It is also interestin
...more
Byron Edgington
Here we have a Washington insider’s book, a memoir from the chief usher at The White House that focuses on Mr. West’s interactions with our nation’s first ladies. As the title implies, and as readers come quickly to understand, Mr. West’s life is indeed with the first ladies. It becomes apparent very quickly that anyone who becomes chief usher at the home of our presidents and their spouses spends very little time at their own home, or with their spouses.
J.B. West was chief usher at The White H
...more
Carol
As a history buff, I found this first-person narrative to be pleasantly entertaining as well as informative; certainly not boggled down with dull/dry yet historical remembrances. A unique birds-eye view, it offered personal glimpses into the lives of six First Ladies that we'd seldom been privy to, courtesy of J. B. West, White House Usher for 28 years. West came across as a man of respect and honor, his first allegiance belonging to the Office and the White House, yet remained non-political, no ...more
Carol


As a history buff, I found this first-person narrative to be pleasantly entertaining as well as informative; certainly not boggled down with dull/dry yet historical remembrances. A unique birds-eye view, it offered personal glimpses into the lives of six First Ladies that we'd seldom been privy to, courtesy of J. B. West, White House Usher for 28 years. West came across as a man of respect and honor, his first allegiance belonging to the Office and the White House, yet remained non-political, no
...more
Mireille
THIS WAS SO INTERESTING. It's really my kind of history book, all about the personal details and who invited the most people in the White House and where did they have dinner and which President napped after lunch. Maybe it's gossip-y of me (though it's not a "splashy" kind of gossip), but whatever, as long as I remember the order those presidents came in, I'm calling it a win. It definitely humanizes these big historical figures, particularly the Trumans, who were clearly West's favorites (with ...more
Jill
Wonderful insight into the personal lives of the first ladies and history on the white house. This was a delightful read!
Linda
e-book Book-bub J B West was "Head Usher" at the White HOuse for 28 years - Roosevelts to Johnson.
Not a "tell-all" secret, but tastefully written about the First Ladies, their styles, and interests. A compact look at history from another perspective. Part of me wishes he would have added more detail and part of me is glad he respects their privacy.








e-book Book Bub J B West was Chief Usher at the White House for 28 years. Roosevelts to Johnson. Not a "tell all" kind of book, but very interesting.
...more
Joanna Cabot
I enjoyed this book a lot and spent a ton of extra time reading it because I kept running to Wikipedia to look up more information on the various people and events. The format did wear on me a little by the end, and I was happy to see Mr. West retire :)

And perhaps it could have been a little better organized. A few times, events are mentioned, then gone back to later from another perspective. As an example, Jacqueline Kennedy's departure from the White House is described first in her section, t
...more
Sydnie McConnell
I didn't LOVE the writing style, but I did really love all of the stories in this book. Reading about the inner workings of the White House and the First Ladies was so fascinating and engaging. It provides an entirely different perspective on our history. I really love the fact that presidents took daily naps! :).
Amy
Apr 30, 2014 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in behind-the-scenes types of books
Recommended to Amy by: Found on BookBub
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This book is about J.B. West's considerable time in the White House as Chief Usher. I found it fascinating to hear his "behind-the-scenes" information. The book is not a tell-all that exposes deep, dark secrets, but more of a respectful telling of what goes in the United State's most famous mansion. I really appreciated that the author kept his political bias (to the point that it seemed like he had none) out of this book because, in my opinion, that would have ruined the stories. Tidbits from h ...more
Paula
Very informative and historical read about the First Ladies in the White House as told by the head Usher from Roosevelt thru Nixon. Enjoyable hearing some of the information from his point of view. Interesting read! Includes some pictures of inside the White House too.
Marianne
Quite simply the classiest, most well-mannered gossip you will ever read! This was 1/3 history lesson, 1/3 memoir, and 1/3 juicy-facts-you-never-knew-you-wanted-to-know-about-how-Presidents-and-First-Ladies-live. A triumphant trifecta! A delicious tidbit! A political confection, if you will. I mean, did you KNOW that JFK took naps every day? Did you KNOW that First Ladies used to talk to their staff members whilst sitting in their fluffy pink beds? Oh, oh!! And did you know that LBJ had some pre ...more
Erica
This is a fascinating view of the presidents and First Ladies, but the setup of the book got very repetitive. By the time I got to the Kennedys, I was tired of hearing how the White House was redecorated, the parties that were thrown, etc.
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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 ...more
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“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.” 2 likes
“ask the President and then tell the usher how many there will be. In the winter months,” 0 likes
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