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Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: 'The Hidden White House'

The Hidden White House
By Robert Klara
History
October 2013
Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN: 9781250000279

Harry Truman had more to worry about than carrying on FDR's work when the president died and the plainspoken man from Missouri became the nation's leader, winning the war and deciding whether to drop the atomic bomb. The White House was falling apart right around him, his family and visitors to the country's most famous residence.

Although it's not true that the leg of Margaret Truman's piano went through the floor and the ceiling of the next level, it did break through the flooring. The house was literally falling apart around the Trumans. Over the years, various changes to the building had wreaked havoc with its stability.

Chandeliers swinging above guests' heads and floors swaying beneath the passing feet of color guards prompted the Trumans to move out and Harry to battle Congress for funding.

The entire interior was gutted and a new foundation dug for the brilliant facade the surrounds the structure. Plans for technological updates, renovations that both recreated what many would consider classical White House rooms in various time periods and the best in new decor were drawn and redrawn. And Harry Truman was in the middle of it all, even as the family adjusted to living in Blair House and security was hurriedly adjusted for less-than-satisfactory conditions.

The entire process is chronicled in Robert Klara's The Hidden White House, written in a facile narrative style that is a hallmark of contemporary popular history. Klara also includes sources for his material in copious endnotes that provide more information while not distracting from the narrative pull of events.

That the work was completed in a fashion anywhere near the original redesign plans is astounding. The sad state in which the interiors were left because of the Truman wish to get back to the White House before he left office and lack of funding after the actual construction was complete is noted, and it is not surprising that one of the first things Mamie Eisenhower did after Ike won the presidency was to redecorate.

Some photographs were published in the advance reading copy; including even more would have helped bring the story of each stage of the work into better focus.

©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Book Reviews and reprinted with permission

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