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Step Inside the White House With These Entertaining Reads

Learn what really goes on behind those closed Palladian doors.


If you’re like us, the extent of your knowledge of what goes down in the pillared President’s Palace on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is limited to binge-watching sessions of House of Cards, The West Wing, and the like. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

That being said, brushing up on actual historical fact and presidential significance is always beneficial. The best way to do that? Cracking open one of these insightful reads that goes beyond the North Portico and into the executive mansion to reveal what really goes on behind those closed Palladian doors.

Upstairs at the White House

Upstairs at the White House

By J. B. West

Behind every leader of the free world is a strong first lady. Perhaps no one knows that better than J. B. West, chief usher of the White House from 1957 to 1969. In Upstairs, West shares his experiences with the likes of Eleanor, Lady Bird, Jackie, Mamie, and Bess. And with an anecdotal tone, West provides readers with a fly-on-the-wall perspective, revealing just what makes this coveted house a home.

Related: 6 Books for Fans of Showtime's The First Lady

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox

By James MacGregor Burns

The first of an award-winning two-volume case study from American historian and presidential author James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt is an authoritative peek into the Oval Office when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is arguably one of the 20th century’s greatest politicians, was behind the desk. A comprehensive project, Burns’ biography covers the years 1882 through 1940, and tracks everything from Roosevelt’s time in a New England prep school to his battle with polio.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

By Doris Kearns Goodwin

A spritely Harvard hopeful, Doris Kearns Goodwin first met Lyndon B. Johnson at a dance at the White House in 1967. Later, she became a member of President Johnson’s White House staff, his confidante, and author of one the most personal and intimate accounts about the man behind the Great Society ever published. Dubbed America’s historian-in-chief, Goodwin takes readers on a tour of Johnson’s personal and public life, from his somewhat turbulent childhood to the assassination that put him in office.

Through Five Administrations

Through Five Administrations

By William Henry Crook

On April 14,1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. It was the same night Union Army veteran, Washington Police Force member, and close personal friend and bodyguard to Lincoln, William H. Crook, was off-duty. In his memoir, Crook shares the regret he carried for that fateful night, while also detailing the first half of his next fifty years serving twelve different presidents.


The Hidden White House

By Robert Klara

Most people know about first time the White House was rebuilt after the War of 1812—but in 1948, disaster struck again when President Harry Truman nearly fell through the ceiling while he was taking a bath. Fixing the mansion was no simple task, with a team of architects secretly inspecting the structure while the first family camped across the street at Blair House; for a time, Congress even considered bulldozing the White House. Set on the edge of the Cold War, The Hidden White House is the story of a nation rebuilding in the face of unprecedented challenges.


The Residence

By Kate Andersen Brower

No first family is perfect—and from dinners to national TV, it takes a legion of skilled staff to make everything run smoothly. In this insightful backstage pass to the White House, Kate Anderson Brower introduces the butlers, chefs, event planners, nannies, and others who make the White House both functional and glamorous. Whether they’re going through daily life or facing downright bizarre circumstances, the first families and their staff never fail to entertain.


The Invisibles

By Jesse J. Holland

In a nation with a legacy of slavery and discrimination, it can be hard to find the melting pot of American diversity in textbooks and boardrooms. But from our nation’s founding to the Emancipation Proclamation, African-American slaves spent eighty years guiding and assisting the most powerful people in the White House. No longer forgotten, the remarkable staff in this book influenced the political climate of a young nation—and shaped the America we know today.


Standing Next to History

By Joseph Petro

There’s more than one way to make history—and US Secret Service agent Joseph Petro has seen them all. In his twenty-three years on the job, he worked for Ronald Reagan and navigated everything from a heavily armed funeral and relations with the KGB to witnessing the meeting that ended the Cold War. In this compelling memoir, Petro proves that Secret Service agents are more than bodyguards—they also play a key role in political events that change the world.


U.S. Grant and the American Military Tradition

By Bruce Catton

If getting the skinny on Ulysses S. Grant’s politics and what went on within those curved walls of the Oval Office during Grant’s two-term presidency is what you’re seeking, you won’t find it here. Though Bruce Catton does brush the subject, his brass-tacks introductory biography focuses more on the man behind the beard than the man behind the podium. Thus, shedding light on one of America’s most misunderstood heroes.


The White House Doctor

By Connie Mariano and Bill Clinton

Every White House staff member’s role goes beyond the basic job description—and Dr. Connie Mariano is no exception. As the woman who worked for eight years under George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, she cared for the entire First Family and was part of the events that made headlines. From yachts to flirting with royalty, her job also had a healthy dose of glamour, and this memoir offers an exciting glimpse of life with some of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Featured Image: Srikanta H. U / Unsplash