Monday, January 2, 2017

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies


Rating: 3 Stars

I finished this book back in July right before the Democratic National Convention began, and that much is obvious as I look back over my notes and my grumblings about Hillary Clinton at various points. This book and I were off to a rocky start immediately, when the introduction opened with a quote from Clinton, then went into a meeting between Jackie Kennedy and Hillary.

However, as the book went on, I was able to put some of that aside as the author relayed some very interesting stories about this exclusive club. In fact, she used an analogy that I feel is quite spot-on, saying that presidents are part of a lifelong club in the most selective fraternity in the world. As a result, First Ladies are members of the world's most elite sorority (And thus, it makes me want to vomit that Melania will get that membership. Gross.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though I might have had a less than stellar impression of their husbands, many of the First Ladies seem like women I would love to have lunch with. The author looks at all the First Ladies, from Jackie through Michelle and I feel like I know them so much better as a result. Though I was no fan of W for his eight long, horrible years in the White House, I really like Laura Bush. Is that weird? Kind of, I think. I have always like Michelle Obama and would love to go shopping with her, but her quote in regards to being a mother made me admire her even more: "I'm only as good as my most sad child" (page 20).

Jackie's story of her beginnings in the White House would not have been complete without a look at how Mamie Eisenhower introduced her to the place. Before her tour of the White House, Jackie had recently been released from the hospital after giving birth to JFK Jr via c-section. Jackie had requested a wheelchair, but Mamie wanted to give her the tour alone and also did not want to be seen pushing Jackie around the house, so she ordered the wheelchair be available, but out of sight and to let Jackie use it only if she asked about it. Of course Jackie did not ask, when she did not see one readily available, and so she was left in quite a tremendous amount of pain when the tour was over. It is no wonder that our country is in its current state, given the pettiness of some.

Even though this book was about ALL the First Ladies from Jackie on, I myself have a special place in my heart for the Kennedys, though the more I read about JFK/LBJ, the more my opinion on them men is shifting. I really was happy to see that Jackie and Lady Bird Johnson got along so much better than Jack and LBJ. It seems like she really cared about the Kennedy children, and Jackie too. I really feel sorry for Lady Bird, more than anyone else. She seemed to really admire Jackie and was hesitant to do anything that might give the impression that she didn't. I feel bad for her, because I do not think the Kennedys treated the Johnsons very well. That then makes me question how much truth there is to the things that JFK and Bobby said in regards to LBJ, how they did not like him, didn't want him on the ticket for JFK's second term, etc. I feel like as a result of the Kennedy Machine building up JFK's legacy, it was at the expense of LBJ's reputation. He was by no means perfect, and definitely had flaws, but some of the things going on were completely out of his control, and there are many good things that he did which are overlooked today. I'd love to know why Bobby hated hated LBJ so much, but I do not know enough about the politics at the time, and obviously a book about the First Ladies is not going to shed much light on the subject.

One bone I have to pick was the repeated use of John-John to refer to JFK Jr. I thought it was already cleared up that this was NOT his family nickname and a reporter mistakenly thought JFK was calling him that one day. Isn't that what happened? That's the story I remember anyway.

Though I have only touched on a couple of the women discussed in the book, I found this to be interesting and valuable. The book is not told in a linear fashion, as it more so examines the relationships between the First Ladies; it does not simply tell of their accomplishments in chronological order as their husbands governed. I liked that way of telling their stories, though some might be bothered by it. This book would be a good place to start if you know very little about the First Ladies.

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