FIRST FAMILIES by Bonnie Angelo
Kirkus Star


Their Lives in the White House
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A sweeping panorama of family life on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In order to amass this weighty followup to First Mothers (2000), veteran journalist Angelo, who covered eight administrations for Time magazine, mined a prodigious variety of sources, including insights from serious journalists and pundits across two centuries; recollections of presidents’ family members; and tales tattled by White House employees. Most readers, once grabbed, will not care that some apocrypha and rank gossip surely holds together at least a few of these slices of life. The imagery is irresistible: The (Lyndon) Johnson girls barely moved in before trying to light a fire in the bedroom without opening the damper; Nixon, on the other hand, got cozy next to his mandatory roaring fireplace even when air conditioning was running full blast in the rest of the house. We learn that Harry Truman’s wife gave a thumbs-up to a butler who, after two failed attempts at mixing an Old Fashioned for Harry, finally just poured a slug of bourbon over ice cubes, and that spare trunks, in sizes ranging from King Farouk’s to Mahatma Ghandi’s, hung in the locker room off the indoor swimming pool installed for FDR (the pool was financed by dimes contributed by American kids). Personal correspondence from some of the 39 first ladies (Martha Washington did not live there) indicates that the intimidation of living in a fishbowl was a common initial reaction; yet many—like the career-Army Eisenhowers, who had never before lived as long as eight years in a single house—were crestfallen when it was time to leave.

Somewhat arbitrarily organized but constantly revealing and intimate, a must for any political junkie’s personal bookshelf.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-056356-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2005