Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

The Residence: Inside the Private Worth of the White House.

Today the Penguin and I finished this book and we're still talking about it. It was lots of fun. The author, Kate Andersen Brower went to a lot of trouble to write this.

There really hasn't been much written about the inner workings and the staff within the white house especially as you see there are more than 100 people who work there.

When you think about how  many people are needed to take care of one family the numbers are amazing.

We had head ushers and more junior ushers, butlers, maids, cooks, chefs, electricians, plumbers, hairdressers, garden staff and mechanics just to name a few. Every time someone turned around they ran into another person. Then there were nannies and educators for the children.

The white house has six stories though you might  not know it because of the way it is arranged. There are mezzanines here and there. The presidential family pretty much stayed on floors 2 and 3.  There is a bunker underneath it for security.

It seems once staff were hired they stayed there a very long time. Some as long as 40 to 55 years. The staff positions are not advertised but rather gained by word of mouth. One butler had 9 other family members who worked there.  Police checks of course are vital. The other skill they had to have was the ability to keep their mouth closed.  If they talked to anyone outside of the white house they were sacked immediately. The loyalty of the staff was first and foremost and the author reiterated this point ad nauseam. No matter what was happening in the world they kept their head down, mouth closed and got on with the job at hand.

The time period went as far back as Truman and even Lincoln got a mention but the book mainly focused on John Kennedy's presidency through to Barrack Obama's.  

It is like an enormous Downton Abbey but with many more staff.

Some of the historical points were mentioned. The Kennedy assassination was a big one of course and the author writes how staff were affected by this. Very sad.  9/11 comes up in the last chapter. But rather than a chronological list of presidents, first ladies, children and events being the main focus, what was most interesting was the personalities and the families of the people who worked there. I especially loved the Ushers and Butlers. Most butlers were African American who worked there for very long periods of time. Decades. They were great grandsons of slaves and their histories were very interesting. Several of the main characters that were discussed told of their childhoods in the south and how they managed to get to Washington DC and live and work in the white house.

One butler who was there 55 years was buried in Arlington Cemetery when he died for service to quite a few presidents at the request of Jackie Kennedy to Lady Bird Johnson.

Interesting points included the personalities of the presidential families. Who was lovely and popular (Bush families, both Sr and Jr) and who was more difficult and needed kid gloves (Hilary Clinton and Nancy Reagan). It told who was traditional and did things by the book (the Johnsons) and who was casual and ran around in jeans and t shirts (Kennedys) The staff loved the Kennedys especially the young children, John and Caroline.

There were some funny moments too such as when staff might walk in on Reagan who was starkers or Kennedy who had naked women running around the second floor when Jackie was away.  Though it is not written from a sordid point of view, it is written simply with tongue in cheek and staff had to try hard not to laugh. The things these people saw and heard.
The Author: Kate Andersen Brower

The book has an extensive introduction, chapter notes for each chapter, a well documented bibliography and complete index.

The author, Kate Andersen Brower spend four years covering the Obama White House for Bloomberg News (as stated on the jacket cover). She is a former CBS News staff and Fox news producer. She lives outside Washington D.C., with her husband and their two young children.

In preparation for this book she read copious amounts of books, newspaper and periodical articles and interviewed one hundred staff members of the White House for this book.

It is well organised, entertaining, enlightening and informative. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in record time.

The Penguin when
he emerged from the
Lincoln Bedroom
(silly bugger)
The Penguin had fun too. He seemed quite fascinated with the Lincoln Room where the Gettysburg Address is homed and he loved it the day Elvis Presley popped in simply because he was in the neighbourhood. A lot of things like this happen.

That's it for this book. I would certainly recommend it to others.

May the Penguin be with you........


  1. Isn't it interesting the WH staff thought Hillary Clinton was one of the worst. One can believe Nancy Reagan with her astrology junk and her looking-after-Ronnie control but Hillary? Too bad. She does seem pretty intense, especially those years with Bill's Lewinsky days. I hope she won't terrorize the staff if she gets Round 2 in the WH. cheers.

  2. This sounds fascinating, and I am putting it on my reading list, for after the TBR Dare ends. I've been to Washington several times, but I've only seen the White House from the outside. I've heard the tours are really good.

    The Abe Lincoln Penguin cracked me up :)

    1. I hope you enjoy it. I have only been to Washington once in the early 1900s. Would love to go back again. I need to plan a trip to DC and New York as have never been there either. I am glad you enjoyed the Penguin. I love to dress him , reminds me of childhood days with paper dolls.


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