cover image Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime

Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime

James B. Conroy. Rowman & Littlefield, $27 (328p) ISBN 978-1-4422-5134-2

Conroy (Our One Common Country) finds an original angle on the 16th president, depicting how the Civil War White House looked, felt, and smelled through the recollections of staff and visitors. He opens with Lincoln’s arrival in March 1861, in the company of James Buchanan, to a home that possessed “too much decay under too many coats of paint.” Upgrading the appearance became a priority for Mary Lincoln, which led her to become enmeshed in a fraudulent scheme to conceal expenditures on furnishings by creative accounting, a potentially explosive scandal that was fortunately contained. Conroy describes the immense amount of time the president spent listening to job-seekers and others who wanted his advice or help. This was a period when the public had almost unfettered access to the White House—a palpably different atmosphere from that of the security-conscious 21st century. Through telling anecdotes, the hands-on nature of Lincoln’s presidency comes through vividly; for example, in 1865, the president himself wrote to the head of the B&O Railroad to make sure the White House was supplied with enough coal. These details about the running of a household while running a divided country meet Conroy’s stated goal of shedding a different light on his subject. [em](Nov.) [/em]