2015: Hidden Power

"It is more than style, more than hairdos and White House decor and inaugural gowns and controversies over china and guest lists."

Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History, Kati Marton

So, full confession - my mom gave me this book to read, and I blew it off thinking it would be sort of dumb (sorry Mom, I owe you), because I already know a lot about these guys.  But I was on vacation with nothing else to read, and picked it up, and it’s pretty good gossipy history.  Sourced well enough that you don’t feel dirty, but nice and dishy, too.  It’s an exploration of various White House marriages - the Wilsons, Roosevelts, Trumans, and then Kennedy through W (the reason for excising Harding, Coolidge, and Eisenhower is pretty thin IMHO, but it’s not my book, so whatever).  Looking at the Presidents through the mirror of their marriages is a different approach, and I give Marton kudos for coming up with it.  Plus, she isn’t afraid to have strong opinions, and you all know I have strong opinions about historical figures. OOOH she does not like Richard Nixon. Or Edith Wilson.

There is lots of good stuff here - how Edith Wilson ran the country at the end of the administration, after the stroke, how Lady Bird Johnson was basically amazeballs, how Pat Nixon’s life was so sad, what goddamn nuts Ronald Regan and Nancy were.  And even well trod tales - like the Roosevelts and Kennedys are handled thoughtfully and clearly.  If you want to try to know what these people were really like, this book offers at least one explanation, and much of it seems plausible.  And the book left me really respecting a lot of First Ladies I hadn’t thought much about before (Barbara Bush, Roslynn Carter, the divine Lady Bird).  The only problem is that it was written in 2001, so the further forward in history you get the weaker the stuff is.  The chapter on the Clintons is pretty fascinating, but it ends on Hillary getting elected Senator - so you really only get half of the story.  And the little thin chapter on the Ws at the end is a joke - the only place I fell she pulled her punches, it seems because of 9/11.  Wouldn’t mind an updated version someday to really read about the Ws (and add the Obamas). 

Still, if you like your history with lots of dirt, and you want a different perspective on pretty well known people, I think you’d enjoy this one.

American Presidents Project

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017