Monday, November 4, 2013

Robert Klara's "The Hidden White House"

Robert Klara is the author of the critically acclaimed 2010 book FDR's Funeral Train, which historian and author Douglas Brinkley called “a major new contribution to U.S. history.” Klara has been a staff editor for several magazines including Adweek, Town & Country and Architecture. His freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, American Heritage, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.

Klara applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America's Most Famous Residence, and reported the following:
I have to thank Ford Madox Ford for his curious maxim; when I turn to page 99 of my book, I find that I could hardly ask for a better representative page for this narrative—with an important qualifier.

I’ll explain the qualifier first. The Hidden White House is a book that details one of the most ambitious and dangerous construction projects in modern American history: The U.S. government’s complete gutting and rebuilding of the White House between 1949 and 1952. In this strict since, page 99 isn’t much of a big-picture summary. However, my conviction has always been that any story about a structure, however iconic or historic, is necessarily the story of the men and women who struggled to build it. In the sense, then, that my book about the White House is really an intimate visit with the people who worked and fought behind its storied sandstone walls, page 99 nails it.

Page 99 of The Hidden White House introduces a man named Clarence Cannon, a conservative Missouri congressman who, as head of the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee, was one of the most tenacious budget hawks our government has ever seen. Notorious for punching out Congressmen who disagreed with him, Cannon took the position that most all government spending was suspect or outright wasteful. So when Cannon got wind that rescuing the dangerously frail White House would cost $5.4 million, he vowed not to permit the effort a penny.

The fact that the White House had already been evacuated of the Truman family; the fact that it was in danger of imminent collapse (owing to decades of neglect and dangerous overloading of the mansion’s old wooden beams)—neither moved Cannon in the least. In fact, as page 99 details, Cannon’s only response was to demand that the White House be demolished and a new one—a cheaper one—built to replace it.

Very fortunately, Rep. Cannon would not succeed in his quest to see bulldozers knock in the mansion’s historic walls. But page 99 introduces Cannon and his cold-hearted threat—one that touched off a national debate, and one that very nearly cost the United States its most important landmark.
Learn more about the book and author at Robert Klara's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Hidden White House.

Writers Read: Robert Klara.

--Marshal Zeringue