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First Ladies: Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  224 ratings  ·  53 reviews
A look inside the personal life of every first lady in American history, based on original interviews with major historians

C-SPAN's yearlong history series, First Ladies: Influence and Image, featured interviews with more than fifty preeminent historians and biographers. In this informative book, these experts paint intimate portraits of all forty-five first ladies—their
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published April 14th 2015 by PublicAffairs
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Fred Klein
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a great read if you want a book about history, but prefer to read it as a conversation between historians, rather than as a narrative or as a recitation of facts. This is the wrong book for you if you are looking for hard facts about the first ladies. Anything you get from this source should be verified.
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The biggest take away from this book: Most of the first ladies were even more impressive than their husbands and contributed a great deal to our country's history and trajectory. That being said, this book is just a primer for all the first ladies. Truly, not much information can be given about each first lady in such a short amount of space. However, I am ok with that and have since resolved to read more about the lives of many of the first ladies from autobiographies and biographies of them. ...more
Sylvia Feicht
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a good condensation from the C-SPAN series on the first ladies.
Aug 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
More of a reference but good short biographies.
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A quick overview of the first ladies of the land from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama. I always enjoy reading about the ladies behind the presidency!
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, which is a compilation of excerpts from a CSPAN series on the first ladies. This was very informative and entertaining at the same time.
Rev. Linda
Sister bought me this when we toured the George W. Bush museum at SMU - fascinating details on the First Ladies from Martha Washington through Michelle Obama -- FROM THE PUBLISHER: C-SPAN's yearlong history series, First Ladies: Influence and Image, featured interviews with more than fifty preeminent historians and biographers. In this informative book, these experts paint intimate portraits of all forty-five first ladies—their lives, ambitions, and unique partnerships with their presidential ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This fascinating and complete look at First Ladies made me sorry I'm a cord cutter. I would have liked to see the C-Span series as it ran. I'm sure it was fascinating from what I understand it appealed to an audience that ran the gamut from grade schoolers to people who are likely contemporaries of the women profiled.

I liked that this book profiled the women who didn't live long enough to see their husbands in the White House but impacted the men's lives none the less. I also liked that we got
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is not in-depth biographical studies, but rather an overview of each first lady. For some of the early ones, or ones whose husband died early, there isn't a lot of information anyway. Rather, the emphasis is on what they contributed as first ladies, and how their earlier experiences informed them, and in some cases, what they went on to do after they left the White House. Even with more controversial figures, the historians did not show bias, but ...more
Rachel Siska
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I had really missed reading about history. This was the perfect dose. I had read a little of this last year when I was working on a research paper about the first ladies during the Cold War. So, I really wanted to read the rest of it.
I would definitely recommend this if you just want a starting point for learning about the first ladies. There are not a lot of details in this book because they cover each woman, but it does tell the highlights to get you interested in learning more about some of
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
More tidbits of each ladies lives. Actually made some seem much nicer and better than I had learned. Forgot how long women were considered almost 2nd class by society but not by their husbands. Enjoyed getting info on them as a person with feelings. Not written in story form but liked having 2 views about the ladies. Amazing how many felt decorating was so important to the White House - in 4 yrs did so many trash it? Different perspective than I would have given for recent ladies.
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good overview of "the women behind the man." One thing that struck me is that it appears that these marriages have been fairly strong, with a few exceptions. Interesting to think about how a strong couple can be greater than the sum of their parts. The peripheral history recounted was also interesting.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Good historical reminder of the lives, ambitions, and work of American First Ladies. I noted especially the partnership many had with this husbands in the political careers. I had to skip reading about two recent women. Too painful to think about them and this destructive influence on the country.
Apryl McLean
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked this book because it was written with several historians and each historian had a first lady s/he was an expert on. This book gave me more details than many other books about the first ladies.
Lily Li
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book a lot simply because it is comprehensive and manageable. I know there were a lot with each president/ first last but it would be too much to differentiate the key points. So this is the key point summary of all the First Ladies.
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Lots of great information, very interesting. A bit hard to read with all the parentheses for assumed words. Even so, would definitely recommend.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great resource to have in your library. Each First Lady's chapter was written by different people, but all very knowledgeable and interesting.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good overview of all First Ladies. Even those that never made it to the White House . A good starting point for anyone interested in the First Ladies.
Kelly Weikle
Jun 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
This is just a transcript of the TV series on CSPAN...there are some good tid-bits but not the book to pick up if you want a real history of the First Ladies. Couldn’t get through it.
Mar 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Anytime a book is covering this many people you realize it's not going to be in depth but I really felt this was too much fluff.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Based on the CSPAN series on First Ladies: This book is a good jumping off point to do more in depth research on the lives of the First Ladies. Each vignette gives basic information about each of the wives and their contribution. I didn't know much about many of our First Ladies prior to reading this book. It has served to whet my appetite for more information. I highly recommend it.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Short chapters outlining each of our nation's First Ladies. Read chronologically, it is also a history of the growth of women in politics and in society, as well. The most striking thing for me was how it took until the beginning of the 20th century before children were consistently outliving their mothers. I can't even imagine the heartbreak that most families experienced before that time.
Todd Schafer
Rosalyn Smith Carter was instrumental in getting mental disorders classified as a disease.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Pat Ryan Nixon were chainsmokers.
Jane Appleton Pierce was probably the unhappiest First Lady constantly grieving over the loss of a son. Losing children seemed to happen to a lot of the First Families.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of Teddy Roosevelt. She was also the first FIrst Lady to develop a pet project.
Lady Bird Johnson was behind beautifying the surrounding landscape
From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, most of the forty-five women you will read about in this book are famous because of the men they married.

Forty-five women in our nation's history have called the White House home. Though they were not the ones elected, most of them wielded influence over their husband's presidency and each left their own legacy on the office of President. This book not only touches on their national importance, but the personal triumphs and tragedies that many
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
Some interesting insights but hard to follow in places. I guess it's supposed to be transcriptions of conversations between experts but it's often disjunctive. One expert has a paragraph about Ida McKinley's health, and the other launches into what feels like a non sequitur about Leon Czolgosz.
Mar 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is not a straight narrative book, it is an interviewed written. She has transcribed the interviews of pertinent historians on the first ladies. So if you are hoping for capsule biographies of all the first ladies (which the introduction tells you it is not), embellished by biographical observations by historians. There's plenty of embellishment, but not much in the way of personal history. These are kind of rambling conversations.

The author and the historians are all well known and experts
This book resulted from a video series by CSPAN (which I haven’t seen). The format consists of a very brief chapter about each FLOTUS (or in some cases, the women who acted as hostess for the president), with a couple of historians basically chatting back and forth about her. These could not be considered biographies by any stretch, providing somewhat anecdotal information and subjective interpretation. I’m not sure if this is a transcript (or more likely, excerpts from the transcript) of the ...more
Jul 17, 2015 added it
Just some small excerpts about each presidential wife through Obama. Each chapter started with the facts about their birth date,number of children with birth dates,wedding dates and names of husbands, and date of death. All information was given by 2 or 3 researchers. Talked about how they met their husbands, some of their life before the presidency, during, and some after - right up until their death. Described their personality and what they were known for,as well as their legacy. Gave a lot ...more
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this for my bookclub, not expecting much but thoroughly enjoyed it. While a longer book, each chapter is short and gives a thumbnail background of the first lady, how she met her husband, and the state of the country. It finishes up by sharing what the impact of the first lady was to both the "office" of first lady and the country. I feel that I learnt a lot from the book and have already recommended it to several people. One advantage is that you do not have to read all at one time and ...more
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
I get what they're trying to do here, in tying it to the show, but the alternating is too distracting and takes away from the importance of these fascinating women when it becomes about who is saying what. At the time I checked it out I didn't know it was from C-SPAN's show, not that it was not straight biographies. Maybe I'll give it a go in the future, maybe not. Disjointed and distracting to be written in this fashion.
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Susan is the co-CEO of C-SPAN, the public affairs cable TV network offering unfiltered coverage of Washington. For more than 30 years, she has also been one of C-SPAN's principle on-air hosts, interviewing public officials, historians, and political journalists. Working together with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb and Public Affairs books, Susan has helped publish 10 books of collected interviews, ...more