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Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  485 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
Kati Marton’s bestselling Hidden Power is an engrossing look at twelve presidential marriages–from Edith and Woodrow Wilson to Laura and George W. Bush–that have profoundly affected America’s history.

Marton uncovers the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the ultimate power couples, showing how first ladies have used their privileged access to the president to influence staffing
Paperback, 432 pages
Published July 16th 2002 by Anchor (first published 2001)
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Aug 27, 2008 Karla rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A fascinating look at the private side of public life and how the stressers of the presidency united and/or divided the presidents and their wives. Even more interesting to me was the way each of the wives interpreted her role as first lady and how that fit or clashed with society's view of her role. Eleanor Roosevelt actively toured the country being her husbands eyes and ears. Pat Nixon shriveled up and withered away under the pressures and with the lack of support and attention from her husba ...more
Apr 18, 2009 Nancy rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Appropriate for Presidents’ Day weekend, this book is subtitled Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our Recent History. The book covered the 11 presidential marriages from the Hoovers through the Clintons, with an afterword on the George & Laura Bush. (The book was published in 2001.) I found the analysis very interesting – a lot that I didn’t know! However, for the most part, the more I read, the less respect I have for powerful men and women!
Jul 14, 2013 Samantha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty biased. I thought she made all the presidents look either weak and highly dependent on their wives, or like heartless, cruel philanderers. She also mentions more than one First Lady's "breakdown." I imagine it's incredibly hard to lead a normal life under the pressure of the White House, but did they all really have such dramatic mental breakdowns? My other quibble was that, in my opinion, the analysis didn't really show the impact that these marriages had on politics or government or Ame ...more
Mar 08, 2012 Davida rated it really liked it
I think this book was supposed to be a more scholarly read, but it's really not about how the relationships "shaped" the presidencies; more, it's straight-up first-couple gossip. The conclusions the author was drawing seemed pretty spurious, but I loved reading about the relationships and power dynamics from president to first lady, and I think I learned a lot. So I don't think this was the book Marton wanted it to be, but it was fun reading nonetheless.
There was something I absolutely loved about this book. I don't know if it felt like I was reading things that people really shouldn't know, or if it just brought a much more human light to our presidents. I completely agree with some of the other reviews that this book really made me want to look a little more into the history of our country.
Anne Baldwin
Sep 08, 2012 Anne Baldwin rated it really liked it
Interesting to pick up and put down - begins with "fools for love" about Edith and Woodrow Wilson and the next is The Partnership That Changed the World" - Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. I"ll keep you posted. So far I'm fascinated ...

Beth Mitchell
Oct 08, 2011 Beth Mitchell rated it really liked it
Very interesting. New perspective on history. So many first ladies lost parents early in life; did that lead them to marrying powerful men? Makes me want to read more about presidential history.
Mar 14, 2017 Deb rated it it was amazing
Loved all the behind the scenes info. Very informative.
Barb Dempsey
Mar 07, 2017 Barb Dempsey rated it really liked it
Common themes in this book were the egotistical, domineering president (i.e. Johnson and Nixon) and his long-suffering First Lady, or the sometimes bumbling charmer (i.e. Reagan and Clinton) and their take charge wives. Kati Marton collected an incredible amount of information. Much of it was collected from the observations of the people surrounding the first couples. I don't know what is true and what isn't, but it sure was interesting. I'm glad I read it!
Aug 16, 2009 Shannon rated it liked it
This book was really interesting. Yep that's my entire review. Sorry, it's been a little while since I actually started it.

Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, Marton depicts the relationship between the president and his first lady in honest and compelling words. She is careful about being unbiased (politically) but does not mince words when confronting a difficult and strained marriage (a la Mr. and Mrs. Nixon). Each vignette was long enough to get a fairly detailed look into each marriage without b
Feb 24, 2016 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-american
At this writing (February 2016), we know almost nothing about the spouses and marriage relationships of the presidential front-runners (except Hillary and Bill Clinton), and this book makes me think we should know more. The book enlightens a timely subject: how couples have (or haven't) worked together when the husband was President of the United States. Marton is a fine writer and researcher. She starts with the Wilsons, then the F. D. Roosevelts, Trumans, Kennedys, Johnsons, Nixons, Fords, G. ...more
Leslie Goddard
Sep 19, 2016 Leslie Goddard rated it liked it
The great strength of this book is Marton's writing style, which is engaging and entertaining. Unlike a lot of biographers, she doesn't get too bogged down in unnecessary details. For someone knew to the stories of presidential spouses, this would be a fun, easy read. As someone who has read a lot about First Ladies, though, this book was mostly just repetition with little new insight or analysis. Lots of little errors lost credibility for me (e.g. Missy LeHand's nickname for FDR was 'EffDee' no ...more
Mar 28, 2013 Sidna rated it liked it
I read this book for a book discussion group and it did lead to an interesting discussion.

The book was well written, but the author clearly had a political bias which came through in her discriptions of the various presidents and their wives and by the information about each presidential couple that she chose to include and what she chose to omit.

Even though the book begins with President Woodrow Wilson, Marton purposely chose not to include the Eisenhowers because they weren't interesting enou
Nov 09, 2008 Marie rated it really liked it
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book. It ended up being a pretty quick read for me. (I finished it in less than a week.) It was so fascinating to read about the relationships between so many presidents and their wives in the last century, and how their relationships were strengthened or weakened by their husband's desire to reach the oval office. It also surprised me because I ended up being a bit disappointed by first ladies such as Jackie Kennedy, who I had always tho ...more
Kim Miller-Davis
Jan 18, 2015 Kim Miller-Davis rated it it was amazing
This is absolutely fascinating look at the ways in which 20th century presidential marriages shaped American history. Along with the socio-political analysis, I learned a lot of interesting historical tidbits that I didn't know. It's organized in such a way that there is no major universal conclusion reached (other than the marital relationship IS an important part of the overall presidential impact). Each chapter contains an analysis of one specific marriage i.e. Bill & Hillary, Jack & ...more
Sep 25, 2016 Pat rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating book and a surprisingly easy read. There are twelve chapters about twelve presidential marriages: the Wilsons, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Trumans, the Kennedys, LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson, the Nixons, the Fords, The Carters, the Reagans, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, the Clintons and a short chapter on George W. and Laura Bush (the book was written in 2001). I found reading about the Nixons and the Carters to be the most surprising, but there was so much interestin ...more
Oct 24, 2012 Marilyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
After finishing her memoir, "Paris: A Love Story", I decided to read "Hidden Power:.." and recommended it to my book club. Marton describes the marriages of Presidents Woodrow Wilson through the 2nd Bush, but omitted Hoover & Eisenhower. Her descriptions gave me new insights into the lives and times of presidential wives and their spouses. The book provided a lively discussion for our book club. Members commented that after reading "Hidden Power" our favorable impressions of Jackie Kennedy w ...more
Lauren orso
Mar 09, 2012 Lauren orso rated it liked it
Shelves: read2012
Obviously, I love gossip rags (SERIOUSLY WAIT TIL YOU SEE WHAT IM PICKING UP AT THE LIBRARY TOMORROW!), and my knowledge of modern presidents is vague at best, so I'm glad to know about these dirty little secrets. But, there's kind of this like really "girl power" underlying theme that I'm not convinced all these women really had or shared or believed in (aside from one line here or there where Maron would mention pretty much every first lady was pro-choice), so aside from that kind of awkward s ...more
Sharon Thomas
May 15, 2013 Sharon Thomas rated it liked it
This book is worth reading, although its style is a little breezy and unsatisfying. I've been reading a lot of biographies this summer, and the contrast is pretty stark. Marton seems to think that entire personalities can be explained, for example, by distant fathers. She could also use a better editor, as some of the facts are wrong.

However, I really enjoyed reading about some of the "First Ladies" I don't know much about, like Lady Bird Johnson. Overall, I recommend it as a good way to learn a
Jade Kessler
Aug 27, 2013 Jade Kessler rated it really liked it
I really liked this book simply because it was not about politics as much as a study of marriages and their shaping of the couples. It is clear that hindsight is 20/20. The closer to the present it got, the more I felt we are still to close to see the real picture. It is also interesting to see how events shape lives and our perception of things. 9/11 had not happened at the writing of this book. How different would it have been if that had never happened? I was struck by how hard it was to imag ...more
This was a really insightful look into recent Presidential couples marriages and it's impact on America. It includes a look at the marriages of the Wilson's, Franklin Roosevelt's, Kennedy's, Johnson's, Nixon's, Ford's, Carter's, Reagan's, Bush's, Clinton's and since it was published in 2001, a small bio of the junior Bush's. There was not a whole lot of politics in this but a whole lot of First Ladies. More than you can find in other Presidential bios, except for Eleanor and Hillary who have a t ...more
Feb 22, 2010 Sue rated it really liked it
This was a real page-turner for me. I've always been a sucker for behind-the-scenes pieces. To compare Wilson's not being seen by the public for nearly 1-1/2 years (and the role his wife took on as a result) to the non-stop exposure of today's First Couples shows how times have changed. Each First Lady is unique, as is her husband, and it was fascinating reading to learn what they were up against in each era and how they dealt with it (or didn't). The book was published in 2001 so ends just as t ...more
Aug 30, 2009 Sue added it
Shelves: biographies
I didn't learn anything new from this book, but I suppose it would be interesting to people who don't know much about the relationships between our first ladies and presidents. Two things about this book that really stood out: one, I felt the author showed a lot of bias, focusing on the negatives for some couples and the positives for others, and two, there were some really glaring mistakes that made me feel like I couldn't trust the author's authority. The most glaring: mentioning that Gerald F ...more
Jun 12, 2011 Joycew rated it liked it
This turned out to be an excellent discussion book for book club. Of the first ladies written about some were definitely more interesting than others. But all with the exception of Pat Nixon were powerfful assets to their husbands success and to the success of their marriges. As the years went on, too, some of the first ladies found it possible to succeed in their own programs, but most first ladis learned that their primary job was to be the support their husbands required. So, the title of thi ...more
Apr 17, 2013 Leslie rated it really liked it
Learned a great deal from reading this book. I knew next to nothing about Edith and Woodrow Wilson's marriage, and even though much has been written about Eleanorand Franklin Roosevelt, hers is a great story, too. (Don't get me started about "Hyde Park on Hudson".) It seemed to be well researched and written. I did feel that the author sort of rushed through the last First Lady in the book (Laura Bush). Although I am not a fan of her husband, I think there was more to Laura's story that could ha ...more
Nov 16, 2010 Mindy rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is well written and supplies a nice balance of historical fact and relationship analysis. In addition to learning about our recent Presidential couples, it made me think about marriages I know, like mine. In analyzing the Presidential marriages and their effect on the success or failure of the President, the author also provides the reader with an understanding of the interaction between the partners and the importance of both partners together, to the coun ...more
May 29, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
Chronicling the lives of the presidential couples of the 20th century, from Woodrow & Edith Wilson to George W. & Laura Bush, this was an interesting and fun read. This book is filled with tidbits such as the fact that Edith Wilson basically ran the country after Woodrow had a stoke, the Kennedy's were able to project their own image to Americans without the media interfering, and Richard & Pat Nixon had their first meal in the White House in separate rooms.

Definitely a must-read fo
Feb 16, 2010 Kelly rated it liked it
More interesting than I expected. I realized my naivete when reading about all of our philandering presidents. It seems out of the ordinary to be faithful to your wife and be a politician in power. I guess I should have realized that by all the press they are constantly getting about getting caught. Still, it must take an amazing woman to put up with all that and still stay in the marriage. Maybe the wives are just as ambitious as the husbands.
Janis Knecht
Apr 27, 2015 Janis Knecht rated it liked it
If you take it for what it is, a gossipy, fast reading analysis on presidential marriages, it is enjoyable. The author was inaccurate on common knowledge information. She never mentioned the fact that Betty Ford was previously married and she stated that upon entering office, Richard Nixon had dinner with his daughters and their husbands. This is incorrect, since Tricia Nixon was married in the White House. It made you wonder what other information was incorrect.
Apr 07, 2007 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kristen and Emily
This book chronicles presidential marriages that have shaped our nation's history. It begins with Edith Wilson, moves on to Eleanor Roosevelt, skips Mamie Eisenhower, but then includes all first ladies since then. I felt it was pretty politically unbiased and was amazed at the power that these women had/have. I thoroughly enjoed it. The author, Kati Marton was the first wife of the late Peter Jennings.
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Kati Marton is an award-winning former correspondent for NPR and ABC News. She is the author of eight books, the most recent of which is the New York Times-bestselling memoir Paris: A Love StoryEnemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Her other works include The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World, Hidden P ...more
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