Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Hidden White House by Robert Klara

book cover of The Hidden White House shows two pictures of the White House under reconstruction The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America's Most Famous Residence by Robert Klara. Thomas Dunne Books, 2013. 384p. (9781250000279)

This book caught my eye on NetGalley and I’m so glad I was given a chance to review it. What a fascinating account about a little known aspect of history. I was shocked at the White House’s state of disrepair and what had been done to the load bearing walls and supports! I knew that the White House had undergone some major renovations but I never knew the extent until I read this very well researched and fascinating account.  

Goodreads Summary:
Critically acclaimed author Robert Klara leads readers through an unmatched tale of political ambition and technical skill: the Truman administration’s controversial rebuilding of the White House.

In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House’s second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country’s top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War.

Workmen digging the sub-basement in the demolished White House in 1950
Workmen digging the sub-basement in the demolished White House in 1950
(White House - Abbie Rowe)
Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America’s most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today’s White House. Leaving only the mansion’s facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter,

The story of Truman’s rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country’s national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten.

My Review:
As stated above Robert Klara has done an excellent job researching and writing an engaging account of a house renovation. It also gives a great picture of the dysfunction of political committees. And it makes me appreciate Harry Truman quite a bit more. Imagine being president and having to live in a cramped little house.

The review copy I received was an ebook version and 25% of the book is taken up by the acknowledgment and endnotes. Very good proof that this book is thoroughly researched with ample citations. The many quotes served to make this a very engaging book on what could have easily been a dry topic.

At the beginning of each chapter is a photograph that relates to the chapter. I’ve included two pictures from whitehousemuseum.org that give you an idea of what a massive undertaking the reconstruction this was.

Workmen digging the basement under the North Portico in 1950
Workmen digging the basement under the North Portico in 1950
(White House - Abbie Rowe)

I learned a lot about the White House, Harry Truman, and life in Washington during the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in history and particularly those topics.

five stars means "Go buy, borrow or beg this book right now!"

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission.

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