The mode in White House mothers is ambition, downright uprightness, and some firm prodding usually directed at the firstborn. This is a shrewd, conversational assessment of the unwitting very first ladies in their lives (hardly the ""charming, nostalgic volume"" so yclept by the publishers). For instance, the Father of our country stayed as far away as possible from Mother Washington, with good reason. Ma Grant was a dreary, silent, fatalistic woman who adhered to the strictest interpretation of Presbyterian predestination doctrines. Ulysses became a drinker, and so did Franklin Pierce who learned how at his mother's shaky knee. But then Ida Eisenhower and Eliza Garfield were sunnier types; Martha Truman had a spunky spirit her son emulated: and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in an unmarked grave, is virtually unknown. . . . This is a collective biography with the difference that each of the thirty-five mothers gets only as much space as seems deserved from the extent and implications of the available evidence. Entertaining research, some of which has been overlooked in the annals of their presidential progeny.