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Vicki Goldberg
The White House: The President's Home in Photographs and History
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Little, Brown / Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-09130-5
Publication Date: 10-31-2011
230 Pages; $35
Date Reviewed: 12-06-2011
Index:  Non-Fiction

American politics as practiced in the 21st century are eroding our vision of the United States. The messages we get emphasize anything but "United." Instead, the governance of our country is portrayed as a battleground in which polarized tribes duke it out with weapons of mass disinformation.

For readers weary of anger and accusation, 'The White House: The President's Home in Photographs and History' is the perfect remedy, an anodyne to the culture of confrontation. Goldberg's writing and collection of photographs are a powerful reminder that we are, for all our differences, one people, and that there is one place from which we are governed, not by sound bytes and press releases, but by actual human beings, who live and breathe, who have children and pets — even pet racoons.

The White House, Goldberg's books tells us, was never meant to be a palace, but instead, it's exact opposite, an anti-palace. The first mass-image of the White House, from an 1807 book called 'The Stranger in America,' by Charles William Jansen, described the White House as a "neat but plain piece of architecture." That initial vision informs this book to a large degree, as Goldberg explores the architectural and very personal history of this symbolic structure.

'The White House' is a breeze to read. Goldberg organizes her book well, and keeps the prose as lively as the photography. The book is divided into sections that discuss the architecture of the White House, those who have lived there, what goes on there and what it all means. As such it offers an interesting and very unifying vision not just of the place, but the country it represents. We see posed and candid shots of the Presidents and their families from a variety of eras. Weddings, funerals, pets — it's all here, in lives that are not so different from our own.

The photographs themselves are really quite amazing. The pet racoon is a standout for this reader, as is the photo of a photographer teetering on the end of a fireman's ladder in 1962 to get a shot of the White House that is now standard-issue. The Presidents and their families are revealed in shots that help us see them as people who live in a house, not angry voices emoting for this or that cause.

'The White House: The President's Home in Photographs and History' has a still center, a quiet power that is re-assuring and coherent. It's a reminder that the states are indeed united, that we, the people, have a single point of focus where we can all look for guidance and governance. It's a very political book in that it suggests and inspires a vision of governance without politics. This is a vision of a government of the people, one of whom runs the most powerful country on earth from a "neat but plain piece of architecture."

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