I’ve always been fascinated by books, TV shows, or films which show what happens behind the scenes. I’ve also always enjoyed reading books about etiquette, manners, and correct form (as a child I’d read Debrett’s cover to cover and, while I’ve long since forgotten, used to be quite the whizz at recalling the Order of Precedence). Add to this an enjoyment of books concerning US politics, and you can see why The Residence, by Kate Andersen Brower, landed onto my reading list.
While covering the Obama White House for Bloomberg News, Brower found herself interested in the many staff who make the residence run like clockwork, from the butlers to the chefs, the electricians to the maids, and everyone else in between. The White House is at the very epicentre of political life in the USA, and yet so little is known about the talented, discreet staff who make the People’s House their place of work. Through hundreds of interviews with staff past and present, First Ladies, Social Secretaries and other White House staff, Brower manages to learn something about what it must be like to go to work every day surrounded by some of the most powerful and influential people of the day.
In The Residence Brower shows the many ups and downs of life on the residence staff, and manages to build a narrative without ever needing her sources to overstep their high personal standards of discretion and decorum. Passages in the book made me chuckle and raise my eyebrows, and other parts made me cry, but most of all this book truly gave me a sense of the pride and dignity with which these people perform their jobs. To observe the past few decades of American History from this unique vantage point is a real delight. And the epilogue may leave you crying, but most of all grateful that these stories have been shared.
If you enjoy non-fiction and books which tell of the stories you might not see, this is a superb read. I’d heartily recommend The Residence.
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