What is it like to be America's First Family? In this wonderfully engaging book, Bonnie Angelo, Time correspondent and acclaimed author of First Mothers, probes two hundred years of American history to tell the story of real life within the White House walls—how presidents, their wives, children, and extended families worked to create a home in an imposing national monument while attempting to keep their private lives from the public domain.
First Families chronicles exhilarating moments as well as dark days at the nation's most famous address, with fascinating, behind-the-headline accounts of picture-book weddings, gossipy love affairs, rollicking children, domestic squabbles, and tragic deaths. From activist wives Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton to reluctant occupants Bess Truman and Jacqueline Kennedy, to those such as Mary Todd Lincoln, Dolley Madison, and madcap debutante Alice Roosevelt, who embraced their new address and status, here is an unforgettable human portrait of our First Families and how they coped, stumbled, or thrived in the national spotlight.
Veteran Time correspondent Angelo (First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents) makes the lives of those who either loved or loathed their sojourns in the White House as irresistible as a gossip column. Although some of her stories are well known such as Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt's distant relationship and Nancy Reagan's devotion to her husband Angelo has gleaned fresh nuggets from history as well as her personal contacts from a long journalistic career. Andrew Jackson, for example, gave an eight-year-old slave as a christening gift to a relative named after his deceased, beloved wife. President Taft was so fat he got stuck in the presidential bathtub. Lemonade Lucy Hayes banned alcohol at state dinners, but she was undermined by rum punch hidden in platters of oranges. Angelo is particularly skilled at describing the difficulties White House children, including Lyndon Johnson's daughters and Amy Carter, had adjusting to life in a fish bowl. Angelo does, however, ramble, with loosely organized subjects rather than a chronological narrative, and doesn't anchor less familiar figures, like the families of presidents Polk and Pierce, in historical context. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.