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

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,117 Ratings  ·  431 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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  • Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West
    Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies
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    Release date: Jun 21, 2016
    Enter for a chance to win a copy of UPSTAIRS AT THE WHITE HOUSE by J. B. West, a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird J ...more

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    Giveaway dates: Jun 21 - Jul 05, 2016

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    Format: Print Book

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    Community Reviews

    (showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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    Chrissie
    I definitely enjoyed this. It covers life in the White House under the administrations of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and finally the first six weeks of Nixon's first term. The author began as Assistant Usher in 1941 to the Chief Usher Howell Crim. In 1957 he became the Chief Usher and continued in this post until March 1969. A Chief Usher oversees the First Family's private as well as public life, ensuring that public and private events don't conflict. They are responsible for the ...more
    Hope R
    May 10, 2014 Hope R rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Oct 19, 2013 Mandy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Gary  the Bookworm
    Mar 22, 2016 Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    I prefer to think of myself as a "people" person, rather than a Nosy Parker (I am, however, a proudly skillful Facebook stalker). Fortunately, I'm not alone; J.B. West is my kind of guy. His engrossing bestseller about his years as a White House usher is packed with gossipy tidbits about America's First Ladies. He seems particularly smitten with Jack's Jackie O and Dwight's pretty, petite Mamie, yet he finds nice things to say about all of them - even Eleanor Roosevelt - and drops more than a fe ...more
    Caroline
    Apr 17, 2014 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Dec 15, 2014 Patty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: read-2014
    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
    Feb 05, 2015 Launette Shaw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Apr 24, 2014 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Feb 22, 2014 Bev rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: history, non-fiction
    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
    Apr 15, 2014 Sally Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Gail
    Feb 20, 2016 Gail rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Very interesting!
    Karen
    Jul 14, 2014 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Lori
    May 03, 2016 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    Recommends it for: American history buffs
    I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir by J.B. West whose first day working at the White House was the day Eleanor Roosevelt hosted the Japanese Ambassador for tea in early 1941. This follows West and his experience with all of the first ladies until he retired shortly after Nixon took office. This is a fascinating glimpse into life behind the closed doors of history. West's narrative focuses on how life for him as well as the entire White House staff transitions from President to President which prov ...more
    Mark Desrosiers
    Aug 31, 2009 Mark Desrosiers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: history, memoirs
    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
    May 01, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Mar 03, 2009 Kathryn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: history
    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
    Mar 11, 2015 Katie Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: spring-2014
    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
    Jun 04, 2014 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: non-fiction
    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.
    Jennie
    Informative without being dry. A fascinating look inside the White House, with a focus on the building and furnishings.
    Kinksrock
    Jan 19, 2016 Kinksrock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    This is the best of the memoirs I've read by members of the White House staff. I wish I had read this one first so I came to it more fresh. (After several books like this, I was a bit exhausted by all the details about White House dinners and decorating.) The most heartbreaking part was the description of his conversation with Jacqueline Kennedy after JFK's assassination when she asked Mr. West if he would always be her friend.

    The book is -- if information I've read in another source is correct
    ...more
    Rachel
    Jun 03, 2015 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    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.
    Jan 06, 2015 Sharon A. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Aug 14, 2014 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    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
    Linda
    Aug 30, 2015 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    This was an interesting insight to living in the White House. I was unfamiliar with the job of Chief Usher and of how many people it takes to run the White House. It was informative and well written, I liked how he gave us some insight into the personalities of the First Ladies, and how the term First Lady came into being.
    I was surprised how how quickly one president and his family moves out and the next one moves in and how the staff has to give their support freely and quickly to the next pres
    ...more
    Carol
    Dec 29, 2014 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


    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
    Angela Olson
    Jul 24, 2015 Angela Olson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
    Mireille
    Mar 27, 2014 Mireille rated it really liked it
    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
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    366097
    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
    More about J.B. West...

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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.” 1 likes
    “ask the President and then tell the usher how many there will be. In the winter months,” 0 likes
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