The House Tells the Story: Homes of the American Presidents

The House Tells the Story: Homes of the American Presidents

By: Adam Van Doren
Foreword by: David McCullough
Published by: David R. Godine
Publication Date: 2015
List: Compilation Books about U.S. Presidents

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The Homes of American Presidents range from the venerable and instantly recognizable (Mount Vernon) to the modest and unassuming (the Coolidge Homestead).  Their architecture offers a surprising array of styles and approaches—from acknowledged Palladian masterpieces like Jefferson's MOnticello to the Gilded Age shingle-style of Teddy Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill; from the unpretentious (and deliberately self-effacing) homes of Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter to the grand summer retreats of Jack Kennedy and George H.W. Bush.  In many cases there are official, and occasionally elaborate, brochures prepared by the Parks Department that describe these houses, but in Adam Van Doren's book, the reader gets to visit them firsthand and unfiltered—as they were once occupied, and as they are today.

This book had its origins in illustrated letters the author and artist wrote to his friend, historian David McCullough, over the span of three years.  As seen here, they are personal, charming and often revealing, for Van Doren, scion of the famous literary family, carefully recorded what he saw in these homes—the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the knickknacks left unnoticed on shelves and tables—and these observations reveal far more about the inhabitants than the official biographies suggest.  Here you will find yourself at home with Truman, but you won't overlook the cracked linoleum in his kitchen; here you'll sense the comfort a beleaguered Franklin D. Roosevelt found in his beloved dog Fala; here you'll encounter the wisteria Abigail Adams planted on the front porch of Peacefield; and here you'll see the contents of the Hyannis Port attic where the Kennedys live.  All these incidentals become mirrors into the lives and character of the inhabitants.  These are houses that, captured in watercolors, do indeed "tell a story," and through them, the personality of the presidents emerges. 

Here are fifteen homes in all, presented in full page panoramas and, again, in more intimate detail in Van doren's letters to McCullough, who has provided a lengthy and insightful introduction.  Between the text that explains each visit, the encounters and conversations with the surviving presidents, and the artwork itself, the reader is privy to a memorable tour of these historic sites that illuminate the inner person occupying the highest office in the land.  This is history—political, social and personal—at its very best.

From the dust jacket

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