cover image Affairs of State

Affairs of State

Gil Troy. Free Press, $27.5 (496pp) ISBN 978-0-684-82820-6

This overview of post-WWII U.S. presidential couples by Troy, a history teacher at Canada's McGill University, is deeply engrossing. He claims the book ""is about image... insofar as the First Couples have sought to fulfill America's unrealistic standards for the presidency,"" and about substance as ""a story of increasing First Lady involvement in politics, and voters' rejection of that involvement."" According to Troy, the wives of presidents who followed Eleanor Roosevelt were scrutinized as half of a political partnership and expected to develop an appropriate public persona. Drawing on extensive research, Troy examines each partnership and evaluates whether the marriage helped the presidency. Truman's emotional dependence on Bess, who disliked politics, distracted him, while Mamie Eisenhower and Barbara Bush filled supportive roles. According to Troy, the presidencies of Ford, Carter and Clinton were impacted negatively by the public's perception of their wives as wielding too much power. In his otherwise absorbing history, the author's advice for first couples, that wives be deferential, is reminiscent of 1950s' women's magazines. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)