book reviews, politics

Repost: A review of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies

This review appeared on my original blog on July 18, 2016. It’s posted here as/is.

I’ve never been one to follow politics too much.  They don’t interest me as much as they probably should. However, like most Americans, I’ve been exposed to politics despite my best efforts to avoid them.  Some time ago, I decided to read Kate Anderson Brower’s 2016 book, First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.  I see on that this book was released in mid April, just a few weeks after Nancy Reagan’s death at age 94.  She was obviously still living at press time because Brower refers to Mrs. Reagan as if she’s not dead.  Nancy Reagan, along with several other first ladies, gets plenty of airtime in Brower’s book. 

I was surprised by how interested I was in reading about America’s modern first ladies.  Brower has an engaging writing style and includes a lot of information about Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.  She showed how important and stressful the job of First Lady can be and illuminates how each of the First Ladies highlighted in her book tackled the role. 

Brower also includes some fun tidbits about relationships between First Ladies.  Some of her descriptions are more flattering than others.  I was surprised by how much regard Brower seems to have for Lady Bird Johnson, a First Lady who served before I was born.  I was less surprised by how Nancy Reagan is described.  Brower paints her as a woman who was extremely devoted and overprotective of her husband, yet something of a bitch to most other people.  Barbara Bush was apparently much beloved among White House staffers, while Michelle Obama evidently can’t wait to move out of the White House.

While I did mostly enjoy Kate Anderson Brower’s book, I do have one major criticism.  This book is not written in a chronological manner, so the First Ladies’ stories are mostly presented in a hodge podge way.  Sometimes it felt like I was rereading passages I had already read.  I think that had she presented each First Lady in her own chapter, it would have been easier to keep everyone’s stories straight. 

I also felt like it took too long to get through the book.  I’m a fairly speedy reader, especially when I’m reading something interesting.  It took me a few weeks to finish First Women.  This book could have used another round or two with an editor for streamlining and clarifying. 

Overall, First Women is a somewhat entertaining read and I did learn some new things about life in the White House, as well as gained some insight into some of the women who have served as First Lady.  But, even though it took me awhile to get through the book, I was kind of surprised when I finally hit the end of it.  It didn’t seem like Brower really summarized anything, so when the end of the book finally came, I was left thinking “That’s it?”

This is the first book I’ve ever read by Kate Anderson Brower.  She is apparently a well-regarded author and previously published The Residence, which was a bestseller.  Others who have read The Residence claim that First Women includes too much repeated information from the first book.  Since I haven’t read The Residence, I can’t be sure if that’s true.  However, having read follow up books from other authors, my guess is that there’s truth in the claim that some information is recycled.  So I would recommend that anyone tempted to read First Women after having read The Residencegive it some time.  Although I know many authors rehash things in subsequent books on similar subjects, it can feel like a rip off when that happens.

For me personally, First Women was a decent read because I’m not a trivia geek when it comes to U.S. Presidents and their wives (thus far).  Those who already know a lot about First Ladies of the 20th and 21st centuries may find this book a little too pedestrian.  And again, I do think that this would have been a stronger book had the First Ladies been presented in a more linear way with less redundant information.  I think I’d give it 3.5 stars.

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