Friday, April 1, 2005

Ladies: A Conjecture of Personalities

Ladies: A Conjecture of Personalities, by Feather Schwartz Foster, is an interesting, educational and entertaining book. Not exactly historical fiction, it blends biography with some speculation, through short “autobiographies” from each of the pre-modern First Ladies.

Each First Lady, from Martha Washington through Mamie Eisenhower, “contributes” their story, for fairly short and readable segments. As such, the book can be read out-of-sequence, if you just want to skip around and read different short stories. Yet as a whole, the stories build a more complete history of life among Presidents and their wives for nearly two hundred years. We learn about 18th century etiquette, the excitement of the early years of the country, and the subsequent aging of the White House building, in bad need of repairs by the late 19th century.

Adding to the enjoyment, each story includes boxed comments, skillfully placed on each page -- off to the side or in the middle between paragraphs of the main page – in which the other First Ladies add their commentary. The “modern” ones, Jackie Eisenhower through Hillary Clinton, sometimes add their comments here as well, and all comments contribute to the overall material; the earlier First Ladies relate a particular story to themselves and their knowledge, and the later ones add modern insight, what history now says.

Ladies: A Conjecture of Personalities is definitely for women readers, and promotes their need to feel important, regardless of political persuasions. The stories especially bring out each woman’s personality, describing what kind of person she was: her temperament, background, and personal interests. Many were rather ordinary, living upright, godly lives as pleasing to their husbands and society, and some seem more likeable than others. Yet they all have interesting stories – some quite unique and entertaining.

Foster’s book is overall a great enjoyment, an easy and entertaining way to learn many interesting and trivial things about people now forgotten, a look at history that we don’t usually get from a history book. Above all, the information in this book clearly reveals how much history repeats itself, and how we are all so much alike. (If you thought, for instance, that the 2000 Election debacle was the first ever, you will learn differently here.) Ladies: A Conjecture of Personalities is definitely a good read, and brings out the best in Foster’s research and knowledge regarding this subject, of the Presidents and First Ladies.

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