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The Butler: A Witness to History

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,984 ratings  ·  554 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 37 Ink
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3.23  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,984 ratings  ·  554 reviews

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Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013, history
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
Aug 06, 2013 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.
Jun 26, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: library-2, history
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 10, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: twice-read
Mar 29, 2014 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
Lydia Presley
Jul 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction
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
Sep 10, 2013 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.
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: race-related
Nice book, not too entertaining but nice.
I was looking for something that resembled more the story depicted in the movie rather than the story of how the life of the butler has become a movie, but I enjoyed reading the whole process that stands behind every great movie. The creation of the idea, the research of people who actually believe in the idea, the fundraising, the hiccups, the way they got up again.
Quite a pleasant reading
Dec 14, 2013 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???
Jul 06, 2013 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
a & e
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.
Andrew “The Weirdling” Glos
This wasn’t really the story of the Butler. It was really a story about the story of the Butler, with various other reflections on African American cinema and the presidents from the movie thrown in for good measure. Some one clearly just capitalized on the movie to sell some pages. Disappointing.

That said, the book WAS very interesting and I don’t feel like it was wasted time. It just wasn’t what I ha wanted to read or what was advertised.
Angie Fehl
Jun 28, 2013 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 07, 2013 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 14, 2013 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 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
Cardyn Brooks
Sep 16, 2013 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
Diana Huguley
Aug 20, 2013 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.
Mar 23, 2015 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.
Jan 08, 2015 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.
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
I am not sure what happened, it was going so well and then it just sort of disintegrated. I was hoping for something more in depth than the film but yeah, it wasn't. I think I didn't read the synopsis closely enough or something.
Mark Hiser
Sep 24, 2013 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
Dec 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-w-cw
I first saw the movie before reading this book. In this book, I expected the author to expand on the events of the movie, but he did no such thing.

The first half of the book had mostly glossed over events in the life of Eugene Allen and a little of the author's experience meeting Mr. Allen.

The second half of the book focused mostly on a history of black film, which had no direct relevance to Mr. Allen's story.

Towards the end of the book, there were highlights of an event, mostly civil rights r
Jan 28, 2016 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
Jul 02, 2013 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
Dec 04, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked reading the story of Eugene Allen and learning that the film was based loosely on his life. Usually movies are a dramatization of a person's life and how they made a difference of impact on society at large. The caveat was that his actual story was too short. The rest of the book talks about the making of the movie which I understand. I would have liked Haygood to explore more about Allen's life (i.e. any examples of racial prejudice he faced in the White House, on his way to being head ...more
I've read parts of the original Washington Post story that Haygood did on the life of Eugene Allen and his years working as a butler in the White House and was looking forward to a more fleshed out story. Instead, this book only covers Haygood finding and befriending Allen and the subsequent making of the movie based on his life.

If you are a movie buff, you will find the part of the filmmaking interesting, but I was disappointed that I didn't get more of a biography of Eugene Allen.
Nov 17, 2015 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.
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.
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a short book and it's divided more or less into two short parts, so don't expect an in-depth look at the life of the real White House butler (Eugene Allen). The first part is really about how the author, excited by the possible election of Obama, traced the butler, a black man who had served in the White House for decades and whose long life therefore meant that he was a witness to many of the events of the 20th century. The Allens welcomed him into their home, and his article about him ...more
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Books2Movies Club: The Butler 5 34 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  

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