Publication Date: February 16, 2016
Alonzo Fields started working in the White House in 1931 and was the head butler for the four Presidents — Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. My 21 Years in the White House by Alonzo Fields is a look through the eyes of a man keenly aware of the unique position he held and with nearly unlimited access at crucial points in U.S. history and his encounters with the world leaders that visited. Alonzo Fields didn’t set out with an ambition in service. He studied music and moved to Boston only to find out that he didn’t have the funds sufficient to complete his studies. Never losing his ambition to sing professionally, he went to work for Samuel Stratton, the President of MIT. As a result of Stratton’s untimely death, Fields allowed himself to be lured to the White House and rose quickly through the ranks to become the head butler. Fields’s influenced many of the major events in the White House during his time there, planning meals and coordinating events. Written after his retirement in 1960, Fields highlights the personalities and quirks of those he served in a loving look at the past. Mr. Fields sadly passed in 1994.
There’s a feeling of reserve in My 21 Years in the White House. The author Barry Eisler said that when he wrote his first John Rain book he was supposed to submit it to commanding officers for review (he did not say that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission) and the choice of anecdotes related by Fields caused me to wonder if his book was also subjected to review; though given the nature of his position, he may have been naturally reticent to go too deep. Despite the feeling of having held back, Fields’ stories are a look that the average American couldn’t hope to have in the absence of his memoir. When Herbert Hoover entered a room, the staff hid in closets and when the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor reached the President, Fields was on hand to witness the reaction of the most powerful people in the United States.
Standing at 224 pages, My 21 Years in the White House is a quick read. The flow is very comfortable and Fields ends the book with recipes for his wine punch and menus from his favorite White House dinners. The memoir was written before the time when these types of works had to be salacious and provocative. There are no nasty jabs or vengeful bombs of information. Mr. Fields has great respect for his employers and the way that his position evolved over the time. Despite facing racism inherent in his era, Fields became a trusted confidant of powerful men and women for whom he held great respect and his love is evident in his writing. My 21 Years in the White House is a charming vintage look at the way things were. The books, its author and most of its subjects have an air of class seldom seen in modern nonfiction. I really enjoyed this warm and wonderful read.
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