The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood

Chupacabra looks pretty startled at being used as a bookstand.
Chupacabra looks pretty startled at being used as a bookstand.

Why I Read It: Every once in a while, I like some nonfiction, especially of a historical aspect.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: This is a good companion piece for the the movie or the original newspaper article that sparked the seed for the movie.

Narrators: Lee Daniels, Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 2 CDs

Wil Haygood, a writer for the Washington Post, back in 2008 was looking for a meaningful story that would tie-in with the nearing Presidential election. He started off back looking for former White House staff members, someone who could give a perspective on what would potentially be the first African-American President. In doing so, he found retired butler Eugene Allen. This little audiobook recounts Haygood’s initial meetings with Eugene and his wife, the building of his article, and the subsequent reaction once President Obama was elected into his first term. The audiobook goes on to talk about the trials and tribulations of funding and filming the 2013 movie, The Butler, which is loosely based on the life experiences of Eugene Allen. An essay is also included that looks at the history of African-Americans in American film, which I found quite interesting.

So you all know I live under a rock, right? I did not realize The Butler was a movie until I started listening to this book. Yep. Missed the newsflash on that. While I keep an eye on hay prices and pay attention to my neighbor’s garlic crop, I don’t pay much attention to TV and movies. I requested this book because I liked the idea of this often silent & scrupulously efficient White House worker having decades of information and perspective about the leaders of the US government. It’s amazing what one can simply learn by being unobtrusive and eavesdropping at the supermarket. Imagine if you had 3-4 decades of such access to the White House?

While the reader only sees bits and pieces of that vast knowledge in this audiobook, it definitely motivates me to check out the film and perhaps even try to track down Haygood’s 2008 article. In addition, i found the whole process to find funds and start filming the movie interesting. By far, the essay on American film was the most eye-popping. I’ll share just one little nugget with you: In 1964 Sidney Poitier won the Oscar Award for Best Male Lead for Lilies of the Field. It wasn’t until 2002 that another African-American man, Denzel Washington, won the same award for Training Day. Nearly 40 years. That fact, while not the only of it’s kind, should at least have you questioning whether or not American film is biased against recognizing African-American acting abilities. All in all, this audiobook was enlightening and piqued my interest in the related article and movie.

Narration: All of the narrators did a good job of speaking clearly and portraying suitable emotions for the subject. While there wasn’t really any need for the narrators to give voice to different characters, the use of so many narrators for such a short book kept the reader from feeling like any one narrator was droning on.

What I Liked: Subject matter is little that I know about; the essay on American film was specifically enlightening; info on the movie making was interesting; this audiobook would make a decent companion piece to the article and movie.

What I Disliked: I would have enjoyed a few more anecdotes from Eugene Allen’s life; overall this is not an in-depth piece, which I would have enjoyed.

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2 thoughts on “The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood”

  1. I confess I don’t really read non fiction – my bad! I like the idea of the title – there’s definitely a great work of fiction in there!
    BTW I also live under a rock as I’d not heard of the film either – actually I think I live under a boulder!
    Lynn 😀

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