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Thursday, November 20, 2008

First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives...Review

About the book:
The first book of its kind,
First Families will provide a lively look at how first families struggle to deal with the new life imposed on them, find a balance between their public and private selves, and create a family home amid the grandeur. Indeed, over the years the White House has taken on the character of a living force, shaping and warping the families it shelters.

First Families is the more than 200–year–old story of these wives, children, extended families and pets of 42 presidents who have lived in the White House, all with mixed feelings about the delights and drawbacks of the dwelling that is both a symbol and a home.

First Families weaves together the stories of presidents and their families, from George Washington to George W. Bush, to capture the intense ups and downs of their lives, both public and private, at the White House. In addition to chronicling dark moments in the lives of the first families and the nation––when presidents walked within the living rooms and bedrooms of White House determining whether or not to go to war––Bonnie Angelo also provides fascinating behind–the–scenes accounts of the illnesses and deaths of children and spouses within those same rooms, the stirrings of love, the squabbles of marriage, the joyful weddings of sons and daughters.

A fascinating account of life in the White House. What is it like being a First Family? How has life in the White House changed over the years? How was it different for Dolley Madison, Bess Truman and Jacqueline Kennedy? Which first ladies were beloved by all and which were the most difficult to like? Who is responsible for the Japanese cherry trees which blossom each April? Who was married in the White House and which presidential children got into the most trouble?

I found this an entertaining and easy book to read. Some stories I'd heard before, but most were new. Bonnie Angelo is a longtime correspondent for Time and reported on the White House for years. She's definitely done her research and shares many delightful anecdotes about past presidents and their first ladies and families, from George Washington to George W. Bush. We learn which First Ladies relished their roles and which ones were reluctant celebrities.

While Ms. Angelo cites many references, she doesn't do so until the end of the book. I found myself wishing that there were footnotes so that I could check references and sources, none of which are found in the actual text. She does have an extensive bibliography at the end of the book, many of which sound interesting and will probably end up on my reading list!

A lively, entertaining book about America's House. Simply enjoyable.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 11/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars


  1. Oh, thanks for pointing out this book -- it looks very interesting. Great subject!