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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  25,831 ratings  ·  2,151 reviews
A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with America’s first families, by the man who spent nearly three decades in their midst


J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions;
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Kindle Edition, 541 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Open Road Media (first published January 1st 1973)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  25,831 ratings  ·  2,151 reviews


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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
Christi M
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a book I read several decades ago but am now realizing I haven't added to my "Read" list on GoodReads. Many books that I read in my youth have long been forgotten, but this is one that has always stuck with me with parts of it coming to the forefront of my mind at random times. Many historical figures are ones we just see in short news clips or are referenced in conversations. But I still remember how struck I was by the author's first moments in FDR's white house. All of a sudden histor ...more
Gina
Author J.B. West spent just under 3 decades in the White House, serving first as assistant to the chief usher, and then as chief usher himself.

All of us wonder what really goes on behind the scenes at the White House, and arguably no one knows the answer to that question better than the chief usher, whose responsibilities are great and varied, touching all aspects of the life of both the staff and the President and First Lady.

The book devotes a chapter to each President and First Lady that J.B.
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Micah Eliot Cummins
This is a wonderful look into the lives of the First Ladies, life in the White House, and the everyday stresses that come from being married to the president of the United States of America. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the personal history of the White House, and the inner circles of Washington DC.
Mandy
Oct 14, 2013 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
Irene
Nov 06, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was not my cup of tea. West served as White House Usher (the department responsible for the managing of White House operations) from late in the Roosevelt administration until a few weeks after the inauguration of Nixon. This is a memoir of his 30 years serving in that post, focusing on his interactions with the First Ladies. This is definitely NOT a kiss and tell; he is extremely deferential to the presidential families. His overall impression of these families was completely consistent wi ...more
Launette Shaw
Oct 01, 2014 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. ...more
Hope R
May 10, 2014 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
Jean
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
Gary  the Bookworm
Mar 21, 2016 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 03, 2014 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
Bryan Craig
This is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the First Ladies from Eleanor to Pat Nixon. You get good insights on their personalities. Mamie Eisenhower was the biggest surprise, since I knew little about her, so it was easy to stereotype her as a quiet, military spouse. Not so.

I also learned more about how the White House functioned as an organization. You learn a little more about the staff and the relationship between WH staff and the First Lady and President's own staff they bring to the
...more
HR-ML
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was written by an usher in the White House
who was promoted to Chief Usher (CH). He described
the role of CH as the White House mansion general mgr
who saw to supervising / hiring/ firing 100 employees
IE maids, cooks, carpenters, engineers, gardeners, etc.
supervising maintenance/ remodeling of the mansion,
making transport arrangements & guest accommodations
at the WH, maintaining the 16 acres surrounding the WH.
Also coordinating w/ other government organizations IE
The Park Svc, The
...more
Book Concierge
Book on CD performed by Eric Martin


Subtitle: My Life With the First Ladies

J B West began his career at the White House while still in the Navy reserve, serving first in the Franklin Roosevelt administration. In time, he was promoted to the position of Chief Usher, basically the head of household for the residence. This memoir details his years of service from 1943 to a year into the Nixon administration.

I really enjoyed this look at the private lives of the first families. Due to his position,
...more
Elizabeth
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book fascinating and entertaining. An unusual peek into what goes on 'upstairs in real White House' told by Usher J. B. West, as he worked alongside five First Ladies: Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, and Pat Nixon. Filled with anecdotes and insights and told with self-effacing humor and great respect for the Presidential families, J. B. West gives a delightful history lesson from behind the scenes. ...more
Patty
Dec 03, 2014 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.
Kristen Luppino
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
This was a thoroughly enjoyable listen. I learned SO MANY fun facts about the first ladies and the presidents served by J.B. West. The workings of the White House are fascinating.
Carole P. Roman
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book about the families that occupied in the White House from Presidents Roosevelt to Nixon. JB West, the head usher, gives an insider's look at the First Ladies and the way they made the house their own. Fascinating on many levels, it's a unique microcosm of our changing society. The shift in social status and the way things are done, as the Roosevelt's upper crust lifestyle exits, compared to the bread and butter of Harry Truman's middle America. Mami Eisenhower's velvet gloves fif ...more
Moonkiszt
I took my time with this one. . . .from the Roosevelts to the Nixons, got to see how the inner workings of the White house personnel, the families that lived their and their lifestyles, and Mr. West (the author) in his role as Chief Usher.

Had absolutely no idea how complicated all that is, and God Bless them all. That is a job only a very special kind of person could do. I'm not one of them! But fun to read about.
...more
Denise
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very entertaining read about the White House and the families who live there. I truly enjoyed learning the role of the Chief Usher! The photographs were great, especially for this Canadian who has never visited the White House. (4 stars, KUYH November BOTM)
Christina DeVane
4.5 🌟 I really enjoyed learning more about all these First Ladies and certain work ethics they had or little quirks about them. You can tell this usher was very respectful of every Presidential family and did his best to make each resident happy.
Facts I found intriguing:
Mrs. Roosevelt was extremely hard working, always on the go, but didn’t spend much time with her husband.
Mrs. Truman was quiet and resourceful and noticed all the dust and cobwebs.
Mrs. Eisenhower liked to stay in bed until noon
...more
Myla
Mar 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-picks
This was interesting, it's hard to say that I actively liked it, but I continued quite quickly through to the end, so I obviously enjoyed it more than maybe I think. Anyway, I did enjoy a little peek into the life of the president and his family as they made the transition to living in the White House and it was fun to get a little bit of history mixed in. I would find this same book continued on from the Nixons till now very interesting, but I don't think they would allow it...probably have all ...more
Pat
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved it! Mr. West is amazing, totally non judgmental as he worked tirelessly to fulfill the every wish of 6 different First Ladies as they settled in to the White House on a limited budget! I Loved Mamie!!!
Lori
Apr 16, 2014 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
Brooke Evans
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ahhhhh just so fun. I admit I came away feeling a bit unsettled that such a huge budget can go into redecorating every few years. I really loved how Mr. West had such unique comments to sum up each First Lady - they're always admiring but specific, showing how different people with opposite personality traits can be effective and excellent BECAUSE of their opposing personalities. (For example, he'll show how social and gracious and grandiose one First Lady was and extol the virtues of their open ...more
Jennifer Doyle
Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
This was a fascinating look behind the scenes of the lives of several First Ladies between the 1940s and 1960s. This wasn't a salacious, rumor-filled tell-all, but rather a personal and non-partisan view of what life was like for these women in the White House. The most riveting part was about Jackie Kennedy, but I enjoyed learning about each of these women, their preferences, and personalities. ...more
Darby Stouffer
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
So good! An enjoyable look into the behind the scenes day to day life in the White House from FDR to (briefly) Nixon. I learned so much about the inner workings of each Presidential family and particularly the personalities of the First Ladies. Informative without being unnecessarily titillating. Well written, maybe just a hair too long/wordy.
Meggie
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written by the Chief Usher to six presidents (Roosevelt-Nixon), this was a fascinating telling of the personal lives of Presidents, First Ladies and thier families. Each president conducted their social and personal lives so differently, and West’s incredible recollections of 28 years offered an interesting portrait of each. Complete with their food preferences, daily schedules, parties and interior decorating.

I love how he described the transition between Kennedy and Johnson: “The house looked
...more
Ariana
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
It was interesting to learn about the different personalities of the First Ladies. I did get a little bored on the parts where each redecorated the house. It was interesting to see how they each handled working with the hired help and the different ways they did or did not respect these workers. Like Eisenhower not letting them use an elevator to get up to her because she deemed it the family only elevator so the staff took the stairs to bring her her breakfast. Really!! I enjoyed reading the wa ...more
joyce g
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and factual. There were many details I learned through the etas.
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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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