The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House (book review)

The Residence:  Inside the Private World of the White House is authored by Kate Andersen Brower, is 309 pages long (not counting photo pages) and is published by Harper Collins, copyright 2015.  I saw an excerpt by the author in a newspaper column recently and it was just the nibble I needed to borrow the book from my local library.  I usually do not go to the trouble to read a regular-sized print book with a hand-held magnifier, but I didn’t even feel it was an impediment to my reading this book.  Yes, that’s how pleasurable it was to read.

Brower takes the reader inside the White House, not as much for satiating the curiosity of the readers about how the President’s family is cared for, as much as to enter into the lives of those who work in the White House.  That is, chefs, butlers, maids, and other assorted employees.  I found it fascinating how the employees of the White House coordinate events with ease and dignity.  Many of them work as White House staff for twenty and thirty years before stepping down. For some of them, it is even generational.  Politics do not enter into the work they do although, they sometimes make jokes about republicans and democrats among themselves.

Brower covers events such as the Inauguration moves.  One family moves out and another moves all in one huge coordinated effort.  The crowds listening to the address and swearing in have no idea of the behind the scenes work it take to move swiftly, efficiently, and completely in such a short period of time.  Since the book covers the period of time from Robert F. Kennedy to the present administration of President Obama, she also covers how very difficult it was for the staff to move Mrs. Kennedy and family out of the White House and Johnson in and do it with grief-stricken hearts.

The characters in the book are ready-made.  She spent hours upon hours in personal interviews with staff, past and present, to cull out stories of love, compassion, grief, terror, and happiness.  Thirty-four characters are listed in the book with stories that are amusing, and sometimes frustrating, and always, confidential.  Seeing teens partying, slumber parties, birthday parties, serving heads of state, moving furniture and decorating Christmas trees is all in a day’s work for them and they take it in stride.

Along the way in the book I learned that the President has to pay for the family food and food for family entertaining.  Someone else cooks it, yes, but they pay that grocery bill.  There were some Presidents who complained when the groceries were a little too expensive and asked the chef to cut the costs.  The First Lady chooses the menu for the week. The President also pays the moving expenses in and out of the White House.  I didn’t know that.

Neither did I know that Nancy Reagan was a perfectionist to the point that the head housekeeper quit.  Lyndon Johnson was such a crank about the shower head and water pressure that the White House plumber had a nervous breakdown while trying his best to please Johnson.  Yes, the Clinton’s fussed with each other and Mrs. Clinton did throw things at her husband.  I also learned that the White House has an official dog man.  Of course, the job is not full-time, but part of his job is to care for family pets.

For more stories, just read the book for yourself.  I predict that this book will stand on library shelves for years and years to come along side other books about the occupants of the White House.  What makes this book special is the recognition of the devoted staff that just takes care of the President and the family during their years of residence in this beautiful building run by the National Park Service.

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