Thursday, April 16, 2015

The White House + Downton Abbey = The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower

Title:   The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House
Author: Kate Andersen Brower
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family. 

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.

Combining incredible first-person anecdotes from extensive interviews with scores of White House staff members—many speaking for the first time—with archival research, Kate Andersen Brower tells their story. She reveals the intimacy between the First Family and the people who serve them, as well as tension that has shaken the staff over the decades. From the housekeeper and engineer who fell in love while serving President Reagan to Jackie Kennedy’s private moment of grief with a beloved staffer after her husband’s assassination to the tumultuous days surrounding President Nixon’s resignation and President Clinton’s impeachment battle, The Residence is full of surprising and moving details that illuminate day-to-day life at the White House.

My Review:

I have such a fascination with life in the White House.  It started with a conference I attended in Washington DC as a junior in high school (any other NYLC alumni out there??), and then was fully exacerbated by my love for one of the all-time best shows on television...that's right, WEST WING!!
How I adore a good West Wing walk-and-talk.
I am happy to say that The Residence definitely gave me my White-House-insider fix.  I've read my fair share of political biographies/autobiographies that give the nitty-gritty on the political work that occurs within those walls.  But this is a completely different side of White House life.  Brower interviewed many of the butlers, maids, chefs, etc. that worked for first families from the Kennedys to the present day.  I was afraid that the narrative could fall too far into the category of tabloid fodder--digging up dirt on the first families for the sake of entertainment.  (You may remember that this is exactly how I felt about Ronald Kessler's In The President's Secret Service .)  However, I was delighted to find that that was not the case.

The interviewees in Brower's research did reveal some personal stories about the first families, but nothing particularly shocking or damning.  In most cases, these stories just lent a bit of emotion and intimacy to the descriptions of the workers' everyday responsibilities.  Instead, the employees focused much more on revealing the hidden machine behind what makes the White House tick--the hard work of the White House staffers that keep the lives of the first families moving along, even at the most chaotic of times.

The dedication of these staffers amazed me.  Many of them spent decades at their White House jobs, often to the detriment of their family lives, but always with the best interests of the first family in mind.  Brower delves into not only the way these employees felt about their jobs, but also how they interacted with the first families, how they dealt with the racial issues within the White House, and how they handled their work in the midst of chaotic international events (9/11, the Kennedy assassination, etc).

I did feel that some of the chapters bounced around too much--the gathering of information from so many different sources seemed to create many points in the book where random anecdotes would be plunked in among other stories that were only tangentially related.  While this did distract from my reading of the book at times, it wasn't a huge detractor from my enjoyment of it as a whole.

The Residence is an excellent Downton-Abbey-esque view of life at the White House.  If that sounds like your cup of tea, then this is the nonfiction for you.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Kate Andersen Brower on Twitter.


  1. I, too, am fascinated by life in the White House and political behind the scenes stuff! This one sounds great. Although, I did like In the President's Secret Service & don't mind some juicy tabloid-esque stories :) Have you read This Town by Mark Leibovich? Behind the scenes about life in Washington...not the White House, per se, but all the machinations of people surrounding government.

    1. Haven't read This Town, but have had it recommended to me many times! I need to move it up the TBR for sure. I don't know why Kessler's book rubbed me the wrong way, but this one didn't. I suppose part of it was because I wanted his book to focus specifically on the work of the Secret Service, and the personal mistakes of the presidents didn't feel like part of that work...versus when you're talking about residence staff, it seems more fitting that they would maybe talk about that. I don't know if that makes any sense. It works in my head. Haha.

  2. This one sounds like an interesting read, Kelly; I'm pretty obsessed with the White House and Washington due to, unfortunately, my obsession with shows like House of Cards and Scandal - haha! I do love Downton Abbey, too, though! Thanks for the great review!

    1. LOVEEEE House of Cards. Second best DC-based show, after West Wing! :)

  3. This sounds like a great read! I'll have to add it to my list. I love The West show! I did a HS program in DC, right now the name escapes me, but hey it was over 30 years ago...closer to 40...ugh.

    1. So glad I'm not the only West Wing lover left out there!! I am due for a re-watch of that entire series.

  4. I live less than an hour from DC and I have seen lots of the sights but the White House is one of the places I have not actually visited. It's on my list of things to do one day though!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm glad you were able to get your White House insider fix in these pages!

    1. I've been to DC several times myself, and have yet to do a White House tour. I'd love to get around to it one of these days.

  5. I felt the same way about the personal tidbits people shared. Mostly, reading them didn't feel too voyeuristic and I certainly never felt like the author was trying to embarrass the first families. She put the personal stories in a larger context and I felt like she both sides of every story. I liked the thematic organization of the book and wasn't bothered by the bouncing around, but I can see why it might bother you. There were very few sections that relayed events in chronological order for long before moving on to the next story.

    1. YES about putting the personal stories in a larger context...that's a great way to explain it. They felt relevant and purposeful in that way. Versus other books that seem to just be putting the first families on display. I just saw your review, so glad you enjoyed it!

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