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First Ladies: An Intimate Group Portrait of White House Wives

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Whether they envision their role as protector, partner, advisor, or scold, First Ladies find themselves in a job that is impossible to define, and just as difficult to perform. Now Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman and an acclaimed novelist and biographer in her own right, explores the fascinating position of First Lady throughout history and up to the pr Whether they envision their role as protector, partner, advisor, or scold, First Ladies find themselves in a job that is impossible to define, and just as difficult to perform. Now Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman and an acclaimed novelist and biographer in her own right, explores the fascinating position of First Lady throughout history and up to the present day. With her unique perspective as the daughter of a First Lady, Ms. Truman reveals the truth behind some of the most misunderstood and forgotten First Ladies of our history, as well as the most famous and beloved. In recounting the charm and courage of Dolley Madison, the brazen ambition of Florence Harding, the calm, good sense of Grace Coolidge, the genius of Eleanor Roosevelt, the mysterious femininity of Jackie Kennedy, and the fierce protectiveness of Nancy Reagan, among others, Margaret Truman has assembled an honest yet affectionate portrait of our nation's First Ladies--one that freely acknowledges their virtues and their flaws.


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Whether they envision their role as protector, partner, advisor, or scold, First Ladies find themselves in a job that is impossible to define, and just as difficult to perform. Now Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman and an acclaimed novelist and biographer in her own right, explores the fascinating position of First Lady throughout history and up to the pr Whether they envision their role as protector, partner, advisor, or scold, First Ladies find themselves in a job that is impossible to define, and just as difficult to perform. Now Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman and an acclaimed novelist and biographer in her own right, explores the fascinating position of First Lady throughout history and up to the present day. With her unique perspective as the daughter of a First Lady, Ms. Truman reveals the truth behind some of the most misunderstood and forgotten First Ladies of our history, as well as the most famous and beloved. In recounting the charm and courage of Dolley Madison, the brazen ambition of Florence Harding, the calm, good sense of Grace Coolidge, the genius of Eleanor Roosevelt, the mysterious femininity of Jackie Kennedy, and the fierce protectiveness of Nancy Reagan, among others, Margaret Truman has assembled an honest yet affectionate portrait of our nation's First Ladies--one that freely acknowledges their virtues and their flaws.

30 review for First Ladies: An Intimate Group Portrait of White House Wives

  1. 4 out of 5

    Toria

    I enjoyed this non fiction about the first lady's of the white house from the start to 1995. So it's a bit dated haha. But I liked the playful tone in this book and it did really feel like Margaret Truman cared for the women and history she wrote about. It's not perfect and could maybe been better if it where more in a time line and not jumping that much but then again it might not have feelt as playful. I enjoyed this non fiction about the first lady's of the white house from the start to 1995. So it's a bit dated haha. But I liked the playful tone in this book and it did really feel like Margaret Truman cared for the women and history she wrote about. It's not perfect and could maybe been better if it where more in a time line and not jumping that much but then again it might not have feelt as playful.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This is a book that I own and a re-read for me. I always find this book filled with information and very interesting facts!!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A well researched book that unfortunately jumped around as she tried to categorize the First Ladies. She didn't hide her opinion and the language was dated. It was fun to read about personal experience and the overall message is being First Lady has always been messy and difficult and they have always had power and influence. Many of these women including the author or now gone reading this was a reminder that politics has always been messy and there is always a human toll. A well researched book that unfortunately jumped around as she tried to categorize the First Ladies. She didn't hide her opinion and the language was dated. It was fun to read about personal experience and the overall message is being First Lady has always been messy and difficult and they have always had power and influence. Many of these women including the author or now gone reading this was a reminder that politics has always been messy and there is always a human toll.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is one of the most frustrating "history" books I've ever read. It is not in chronological order (God only knows why) so if your history/dates memory is a little off (as mine is) this is going to wreak havoc on your (already questionable) timeline. The narrative is very dated in tone and quite often Truman's comments seem rather sexist. The focus, of course, is on the the First Ladies' re-decorating of the white house and fashion sense. More than once Truman indicates that these woman must f This is one of the most frustrating "history" books I've ever read. It is not in chronological order (God only knows why) so if your history/dates memory is a little off (as mine is) this is going to wreak havoc on your (already questionable) timeline. The narrative is very dated in tone and quite often Truman's comments seem rather sexist. The focus, of course, is on the the First Ladies' re-decorating of the white house and fashion sense. More than once Truman indicates that these woman must first and foremost be "wives" in a not very modern ideological sense. These comments are not put into context of the era but seem to be merely Truman's own opinion. Her commentary on Presidential marital indiscretions are very "what a bad boy he was" and "oh his wife put up with it so gallantly" but the ONE apparent First Lady flirt Truman slaps down for behaving in an inappropriate manner as a President's wife. Grrr. Truman inserts herself and her family into the text inappropriately. "When I met..." "I remember when..." "Mother was friends with..." which, as if it hadn't already happened, lessens the idea that one is reading a historical account of the First Ladies and increases the feeling that this is a memoir and hobby research project of a former child of the White House. I can't recommend this as an insightful historical read but if you like gossip columns you'll probably love this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    A well-written book on the First Ladies, and given the author, we do find many personal anecdotes on the ones of the 20th century. And many of these First Ladies have a wonderful longevity. Ms. Truman is equally funny and vibrant with the First Ladies before the 20th century. How different they all were. One could vaguely divide them into apolitical and political. Margaret’s mother would fall into the latter category and of course Eleanor Roosevelt would be at the far end of the fully involved po A well-written book on the First Ladies, and given the author, we do find many personal anecdotes on the ones of the 20th century. And many of these First Ladies have a wonderful longevity. Ms. Truman is equally funny and vibrant with the First Ladies before the 20th century. How different they all were. One could vaguely divide them into apolitical and political. Margaret’s mother would fall into the latter category and of course Eleanor Roosevelt would be at the far end of the fully involved politically. I suppose she seems somewhat overly generous in her evaluation of Jackie Kennedy – but this can be over-looked because of her tormented life. I detected some hostility to Eleanor as I think she stands well above any of the First Ladies. This is definitely an entertaining read from an opinionated author who has a good and personal understanding of the history involved.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Rapp

    Recently, my mom refers to this book every other time I talk to her. She is a huge Margaret Truman fan and a history buff. Have to say thus far my top Ladies are Dollie Madison, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Grace Coolidge...though I did skip one Lady - Barbara (for obvious reasons - sorry mom I just couldn't do it) Really was a fascinating read...some First Ladies were just plain crazy, while others were amazing. I highly recommend it. Recently, my mom refers to this book every other time I talk to her. She is a huge Margaret Truman fan and a history buff. Have to say thus far my top Ladies are Dollie Madison, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Grace Coolidge...though I did skip one Lady - Barbara (for obvious reasons - sorry mom I just couldn't do it) Really was a fascinating read...some First Ladies were just plain crazy, while others were amazing. I highly recommend it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Fran Johnson

    Good book by the daughter of a White House Wife. Margaret Truman has written an enjoyable book about First Ladies. Easy and enjoyable reading.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brent M. Jones

    Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry S. Truman and Bess Truman, was born on February 17, 1924 in Independence, Missouri and died on January 29, 2008 in Chicago. The Presidential Daughters book, “First Ladies”, is of course opinionated and takes the view that the importance of the women themselves are secondary. Compare this impression with a quote from an article “Daughter Knows Bess that was in the Washington Post: "Mother told her secretary, 'I don't give a damn what they want to know,' and the Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry S. Truman and Bess Truman, was born on February 17, 1924 in Independence, Missouri and died on January 29, 2008 in Chicago. The Presidential Daughters book, “First Ladies”, is of course opinionated and takes the view that the importance of the women themselves are secondary. Compare this impression with a quote from an article “Daughter Knows Bess that was in the Washington Post: "Mother told her secretary, 'I don't give a damn what they want to know,' and the secretary translated that to 'She hasn't made up her mind yet,' " Margaret Truman says. For the book protecting the President is her message of importance saying.  ``While I am heartily in favor of women achieving maximum opportunities and power, I doubt that the First Lady is the ideal symbolic vehicle for this ascent.'' With this yardstick it is not surprising to see Nancy Reagan presented in the book as the type of first lady that Margaret admires. The criticism that Nancy Reagan received in Ron Reagan’s first term due to her decision to replace the White House china, which had been paid for by private donations, doesn’t seem very heavy weight by today’s standards but Margaret likely would feel ok about it being bold enough. Another First Lady that Margaret referred to as the “almost perfect First Lady” was Lady Bird Johnson. With the praise for these two First Ladies it is really no surprise to find Margaret take a shot at Jacqueline Kennedy saying she had a ``visceral repugnance for average Americans.''  Eleanor Roosevelt even though very accomplished on a personal level was judged by Margaret against what she termed as Eleanor’s ``tragic limitations'' as a wife. What is clear from the book is that First Ladies find themselves in a job that is impossible to define, and just as difficult to perform. Margaret Truman brings her unique perspective and tries to reveal the truth behind some of the most misunderstood and forgotten First Ladies. For more about this book see www.connectedeventsmatter.com

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    Who knew?! Truman's 'First Ladies' shows just how much the U.S. gained from the accomplishments - some noteworthy, other trivia-worthy - of every wife of the President. One First Lady's - Ellen Wilson - accomplishment stays with me after finishing Truman's book. Her "Alley Bill" demonstrates how, in 1914, a personal conviction overcame an accepted injustice of the time. If Truman's 'First Ladies' is a lens through which one can view the position of the First Lady and what impact she can bring to Who knew?! Truman's 'First Ladies' shows just how much the U.S. gained from the accomplishments - some noteworthy, other trivia-worthy - of every wife of the President. One First Lady's - Ellen Wilson - accomplishment stays with me after finishing Truman's book. Her "Alley Bill" demonstrates how, in 1914, a personal conviction overcame an accepted injustice of the time. If Truman's 'First Ladies' is a lens through which one can view the position of the First Lady and what impact she can bring to our country, it shows how an understanding and respect of our history is critical to keeping us strong. #knowourhistory ... #respect ...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Katie Nelson

    I love to read about First Ladies and this was a fun book because President Truman's daughter was the author and she has some great insight and connections. I learned quite a few new things and had a few surprises. I did struggle a bit with her writing style at first. She seemed to have difficulty knowing how to refer to her own family. I also wished she would have just covered all the first ladies in order. It was interesting though to see how she connected them and wove them together throughou I love to read about First Ladies and this was a fun book because President Truman's daughter was the author and she has some great insight and connections. I learned quite a few new things and had a few surprises. I did struggle a bit with her writing style at first. She seemed to have difficulty knowing how to refer to her own family. I also wished she would have just covered all the first ladies in order. It was interesting though to see how she connected them and wove them together throughout the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Truman's closeness with her mother's own First Lady experience makes for very interesting "up close and personal" historic reportage. If she had been able to extend the same kind of sympathy to each of her subjects, this could have been a fascinating historical collection. How does any woman fit her own strengths, weaknesses, foibles into this stunningly public role? Any First Lady could be be quite as deserving of sympathy as Bess Truman of sympathy and recognition-- but Margaret Truman's regard Truman's closeness with her mother's own First Lady experience makes for very interesting "up close and personal" historic reportage. If she had been able to extend the same kind of sympathy to each of her subjects, this could have been a fascinating historical collection. How does any woman fit her own strengths, weaknesses, foibles into this stunningly public role? Any First Lady could be be quite as deserving of sympathy as Bess Truman of sympathy and recognition-- but Margaret Truman's regard is uneven, ranging from respectful to downright dismissive.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dobby

    This is a fascinating look at American First Ladies, from Martha Washington to Hillary Clinton. I enjoyed the short vignettes that gave an insight into the values and expectations of the times. It was especially intriguing to see how each woman approached the role. The layout of the book—one First Lady study per chapter—made it easy to read a chapter or two while waiting at appointments, etc. I was sorry to reach the end, but now I'm eager to find more in-depth information about each of these his This is a fascinating look at American First Ladies, from Martha Washington to Hillary Clinton. I enjoyed the short vignettes that gave an insight into the values and expectations of the times. It was especially intriguing to see how each woman approached the role. The layout of the book—one First Lady study per chapter—made it easy to read a chapter or two while waiting at appointments, etc. I was sorry to reach the end, but now I'm eager to find more in-depth information about each of these historically important women who helped to shape our country.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    I love to learn about past US Presidents and First Ladies so of course I enjoyed this book. Truman groups them into categories of sorts as she highlights particular women. I am more linear I guess, as I would have preferred a more chronological approach. Nevertheless, her insider's view was certainly a plus here. It ends with the Clinton administration before the Lewinsky affair came to light. I would have appreciated her take on that. Anyway, worth a read if you nerd out on this kind of thing l I love to learn about past US Presidents and First Ladies so of course I enjoyed this book. Truman groups them into categories of sorts as she highlights particular women. I am more linear I guess, as I would have preferred a more chronological approach. Nevertheless, her insider's view was certainly a plus here. It ends with the Clinton administration before the Lewinsky affair came to light. I would have appreciated her take on that. Anyway, worth a read if you nerd out on this kind of thing like I do!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joelle

    Joelle Reads Her Bookcase #34 It's factual, not gossipy, and has a theme: being partners, a protector, and love. I appreciated that it wasn't a juicy and speculative tell all. It ends with Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton's first term, and the fact that Michelle Obama is missing from this list is not lost when you read about the many incredible first ladies who have occupied that role before. Joelle Reads Her Bookcase #34 It's factual, not gossipy, and has a theme: being partners, a protector, and love. I appreciated that it wasn't a juicy and speculative tell all. It ends with Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton's first term, and the fact that Michelle Obama is missing from this list is not lost when you read about the many incredible first ladies who have occupied that role before.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kaye Sivori

    Very interesting and informative book. As a non-fiction I would have preferred a chronological depiction. I felt the authors categorizing or grouping the First Ladies along with inserting her own opinion was her attempt to make the book more of a historical novel, for that reason I rated it lower.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    It was so nice to read the perspective of a woman who has lived in the White House and understands First Families in a way the public cannot. It was so neat to read of her personal experiences meeting many of the First Ladies she writes about. A great read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Julie Barnard

    This was about many of the First Ladies (although not all of them). A little too much repetition for my taste, though I did enjoy the book. The differences in their relationships with their husbands surprised me.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Not a book written to go down as a classic, it just provides a look into how the different First Ladies came across while in the White House, what they were like, how they approached a job that has little definition. It was fun to read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    Fascinating look into the lives of these women. I really wish I could know what Margaret Truman would write after the Clinton presidency...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I found this book fascinating overall but was a bit frustrated that it did not proceed in chronological order. That made it a bit harder for me to follow. Overall, very interesting.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janis

    This book is a wonderful read for all who like tales of famous people and what happens in their private lives. I neve realized how important a first lady can be and the influence that she has.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Audrey Webster

    Good easy read about President’s wives and their time in the White House.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    A wonderful book about 24 of the women who had the job as USA First Ladies. This was written in 1995, we don't get the final years of Hillary Clinton. I wonder now what Margaret Truman would have written about our current First Lady and 45 President. A wonderful book about 24 of the women who had the job as USA First Ladies. This was written in 1995, we don't get the final years of Hillary Clinton. I wonder now what Margaret Truman would have written about our current First Lady and 45 President.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ghost of the Library

    Interesting piece of historical work regarding the First Ladies of the United States since Martha Washington up to Hillary Clinton. The title of the book pretty much explains its content so i wont bore you with a description, suffice to say i, for one, very much enjoyed reading it and discovering some very remarkable women behind the first man of the country. Margaret Truman no doubt had VIP access to sources, researches and the White House (like her name indicates she is the daughter of former pr Interesting piece of historical work regarding the First Ladies of the United States since Martha Washington up to Hillary Clinton. The title of the book pretty much explains its content so i wont bore you with a description, suffice to say i, for one, very much enjoyed reading it and discovering some very remarkable women behind the first man of the country. Margaret Truman no doubt had VIP access to sources, researches and the White House (like her name indicates she is the daughter of former president Harry Truman), however that same privileged access did not stop her from being clear and straight to the point when speaking of the different women, making you realize that she expects you, the reader, to form your own opinion about each of them - even if there´s an occasional hint of a preference for one particular First Lady. Many here have countless books on them, like Eleanor or Jackie, and hence it is perhaps more enjoyable to read about women whose work and lives aren´t so well (to me anyways) known like Julia Grant, Edith Wilson, Lou Hoover or Grace Coolidge. Made me want to start researching and reading more about each and everyone one of the ladies!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    This is a great book for history/trivia buffs and people who don't have a lot of time to pore through a complicated novel. Each standalone chapter talks about one or two First Ladies, fascinating women who played important roles in our history and often differed from their presidential husbands in ways you wouldn't expect. Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman, interviewed the modern First Ladies up through Hillary Clinton, and mined diaries and letters for personal insights on the This is a great book for history/trivia buffs and people who don't have a lot of time to pore through a complicated novel. Each standalone chapter talks about one or two First Ladies, fascinating women who played important roles in our history and often differed from their presidential husbands in ways you wouldn't expect. Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman, interviewed the modern First Ladies up through Hillary Clinton, and mined diaries and letters for personal insights on the women who came before them. Too often First Ladies are shrugged off as shallow figure heads who pick out china patterns and place settings, but this book shows how these wives often helped their husbands secure the office and press for important policies.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lynnette

    A book full of facts, interesting tidbits, and enlightening details about the lives of our First Ladies, I enjoyed this book. However, it was so packed full of information, and not in chronological order, I wish I'd had a time line and would have taken notes. Many of the details are lost to me now. Truman grouped the ladies by things they had in common, which was surprising on its own. Several did not want to be First Ladies. Some wanted it more than their husbands. Too many lost a child while in A book full of facts, interesting tidbits, and enlightening details about the lives of our First Ladies, I enjoyed this book. However, it was so packed full of information, and not in chronological order, I wish I'd had a time line and would have taken notes. Many of the details are lost to me now. Truman grouped the ladies by things they had in common, which was surprising on its own. Several did not want to be First Ladies. Some wanted it more than their husbands. Too many lost a child while in the White House, and many suffered from illness and the pain of the media. Human nature hasn't changed. To gain a new appreciation on the White House, politics, and the history of our country, read this book. My only regret is that the book had to end and couldn't be up-to-date!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Wyld

    I found this book to be a great overview of the american presidency from the women who lived with them. There are a lot of interesting stories and I felt that I had a different insight into American history. I have a lot more respect for the role and a lot less respect for basically every president! YIKES! So many of them were unfaithful and neglectful- uggh! But I highly recommend this book anyway. The author is the daughter of Henry Truman, so she spent part of her life in the White House and I found this book to be a great overview of the american presidency from the women who lived with them. There are a lot of interesting stories and I felt that I had a different insight into American history. I have a lot more respect for the role and a lot less respect for basically every president! YIKES! So many of them were unfaithful and neglectful- uggh! But I highly recommend this book anyway. The author is the daughter of Henry Truman, so she spent part of her life in the White House and had easy access to all of the first ladies living in her lifetime and access to lots of historical documents. She is a good historian.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Don't look for objectivity here! But if you enjoy hearing stories about American Presidents and their lives, especially from a decidedly opinionated source, you will love this book. Get Margaret Truman's take on recent White House wives including Pat Nixon and Jackie Kennedy as well as less well known but equally fascinating figures such as Julia Tyler and Lou Hoover. Recommended. Don't look for objectivity here! But if you enjoy hearing stories about American Presidents and their lives, especially from a decidedly opinionated source, you will love this book. Get Margaret Truman's take on recent White House wives including Pat Nixon and Jackie Kennedy as well as less well known but equally fascinating figures such as Julia Tyler and Lou Hoover. Recommended.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mayda

    If you like biographies, history, and politics, this book may appeal to you. Chock full of interesting tidbits, nevertheless it is also strewn with filler. Unless you are interested in all the first ladies, you may find yourself skimming through some sections to get to others. Not terribly well organized, it seems to be well researched. But Margaret Truman does infuse the book with her opinions, which can be interesting, if not factual. If you are looking for personal insights into the first lad If you like biographies, history, and politics, this book may appeal to you. Chock full of interesting tidbits, nevertheless it is also strewn with filler. Unless you are interested in all the first ladies, you may find yourself skimming through some sections to get to others. Not terribly well organized, it seems to be well researched. But Margaret Truman does infuse the book with her opinions, which can be interesting, if not factual. If you are looking for personal insights into the first ladies, you may be disappointed, but you may discover things you didn’t know about them. The book could have used some serious editing to enhance its appeal.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I highly recommend this book! Most of us tend to ignore nuance and perceive the presidency and the various presidents with a judgmental attitude. This book will serve to remind us that presidents are human. In addition, what we the people remember as history is quite distorted from reality. Certain first ladies such as Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Dolley Madison and Eleanor Roosevelt have iconic status but few really know the details. Truman, with an insider's view, gives us details - o I highly recommend this book! Most of us tend to ignore nuance and perceive the presidency and the various presidents with a judgmental attitude. This book will serve to remind us that presidents are human. In addition, what we the people remember as history is quite distorted from reality. Certain first ladies such as Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Dolley Madison and Eleanor Roosevelt have iconic status but few really know the details. Truman, with an insider's view, gives us details - of relationships, personality, stye and accomplishments. And Truman reminds us there were other first Ladies whose lives should not be buried under the memories of the more famous figures.

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