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Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation Paperback – 5 Feb 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (5 Feb. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439169829
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439169827
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,978,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Provide[s] a panoramic view of America at the turn of the 20th century. . .Davis’s book is a marker of how far the country has come." --Washington Post

"A well-researched, highly readable treatment of an important era in racial relations, encapsulated in the meeting of two of the era’s most significant men."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"This is history that excites. This is history that inspires. And this is history that will make readers sit up all night."
—Betty DeRamus, author of Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad and Freedom by Any Means.

“In fluid prose and with clear respect for her subject matter, Davis paints a vivid picture of race relations at the turn of the 20th century – a story resonating with today’s fraught political and racial landscape.” – Publishers Weekly

“Valuable because it gives us not only a picture of how things have changed in the century since TR was President but also how much really hasn’t changed.”
--The Moderate Voice

“[Davis] does an excellent job of sketching the backgorund of this remarkable period." -- Wilmington Star News --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Deborah Davis is the author of Fabritius and the Goldfinch; Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation; Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X; Party of the Century; and Gilded. She formerly worked as an executive, story editor, and story analyst for several major film companies. For more information, visit and follow along on Instagram @WarholRoadTrip. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
"Guest of Honor" presents the nationally shocking dinner at which Booker T. Washington was entertained in the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt and his family. More than just the story of a dinner it presents a dual biography of two men who, although worlds apart in their social origins, shared surprisingly similar experiences and whose career paths would intersect. Both the son of a patrician and the son of a slave would lose a wife, Washington would lose two, struggle with rebellious children, and serve each other's interests in the South.

Roosevelt was a rarity in his day in that, although believing in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon, would give a high achiever his due regardless of race. Washington became a leader of his race through his advancement of education for former slaves.

Upon becoming president, TR needed eyes and ears in the South. Washington, a member of a race then heavily supportive of the Party of Lincoln, could be those eyes and ears. A working relationship with the president did wonders for Washington's prestige and his value to the Tuskegee Institute that he led.

Shortly after succeeding to the presidency, TR invited Washington to dinner to discuss federal appointments in the South. Roosevelt wanted Washington to recommend the best qualified men (no, women were not considered in those days) for job openings. The relationship was a productive, although controversial one. Although the dinner was neither publicized nor considered newsworthy by either participant it was picked up by the press and visions of a black man being a dinner guest at the White House drew storms of criticism, most violently from the South. The incident probably eliminated any chance TR may have had of cracking the Solid Democratic South.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x8d9d087c) out of 5 stars 47 reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8d9a2e58) out of 5 stars Very readable, interesting and timely story 9 May 2012
By Mel O - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One morning, I heard an interview on the radio with the author about this story, got on my smartphone and one-click ordered this book with Amazon Prime, only to find it was somehow delivered to my door only a few hours later. Pretty amazing.. and what a different time it from the time of Roosevelt and Washington.

This book is thoroughly readable and accessible (nothing 'dry' in this book), and captures a moment in history that few know about. It is amazing to read the similarities of the event to events today, in that the media played such a big role in the story, impacting these two men and their leadership roles starting the very next morning in some horrifying ways; something that we may tend to think is a more modern phenomenon. Fascinating of course, in that a black man is dining every night in the White House, so in other ways things have changed so much. There is an incredible array of reactions from many people at the time, black and white, that are thought-provoking and show how in other ways little has changed. The details of the family life and childhood experiences of the men are fascinating, including the importance of Lincoln in both men's early years. I have to say this book was difficult to put down since it is so engaging; I hope to read some of the author's other books after finding this one.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8dfc57d4) out of 5 stars Much More Than A Dinner 26 May 2012
By Man of La Book - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Guest of Honor: Booker T. Wash­ing­ton, Theodore Roo­sevelt, and the White House Din­ner That Shocked a Nation by Deb­o­rah Davis is a non-fiction book which tells of the events lead­ing and result­ing of a sim­ple din­ner in which Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt dined with Book T. Washington.

In 1901 the coun­try woke up to a shock, the pre­vi­ous day 16 October, President Theodore Roo­sevelt invited Booker T. Wash­ing­ton to have din­ner at the exec­u­tive man­sion (known today as the White House) with the First Fam­ily. Not only black, but a for­mer slave, the invi­ta­tion cre­ated fod­der for news papers, vile car­toons and vul­gar songs.

While Guest of Honor: Booker T. Wash­ing­ton, Theodore Roo­sevelt, and the White House Din­ner That Shocked a Nation by Deb­o­rah Davis seems to be only about a din­ner, it is actu­ally much more. This well researched book touches on pol­i­tics of the era as well as the frag­ile and dif­fi­cult race rela­tions after the Amer­i­can Civil War.

The book exten­sively goes into the events that shaped the break­through meal, start­ing with the end of the Civil War and short biogra­phies of the two main play­ers. It was strik­ing to see how par­al­lel the lives of two men, each at one end of the social spec­trum (an ex slave and a priv­i­leged white) were eerily sim­i­lar. Both men, close at age, got
mar­ried at approx­i­mately the same time, had kids at around the same time and suf­fer dev­as­tat­ing losses.

This is well writ­ten, well researched and easy to read his­tory. While the book cap­tures a moment in his­tory, most of the nar­ra­tive con­cen­trates on the events before it and why such a ges­ture cre­ated a huge splash. The con­tra­dic­tions between the impul­sive Roo­sevelt and the cau­tious Wash­ing­ton are high­lighted, but also how they
com­pli­mented each other and why they needed one another.

Abra­ham Lin­coln, America's 16th Pres­i­dent, is always in the back­ground of this book. Both men admired Mr. Lin­coln, his con­tri­bu­tions, guts, political savvy and skill. While Mr. Lin­coln is not in this book, as a per­son, his shadow is on almost every page. One of the amaz­ing things I learned from this book, is that Roo­sevelt used Wash­ing­ton as a polit­i­cal advi­sor, not by name but by actions. The two men cor­re­sponded lengthily and the Pres­i­dent imple­mented the advice Mr. Wash­ing­ton gave him about polit­i­cal appoint­ments and the such.

The din­ner on Octo­ber 16, 1901 went smoothly, Mr. Wash­ing­ton came in the evening and the whole his­tor­i­cal event almost went unno­ticed. Once word was out, the South has erupted in intel­lec­tual and phys­i­cal vio­lence. A line has been crossed as the impli­ca­tion of an invi­ta­tion to din­ner had much more mean­ing than today's. Not only did whites admon­ish the event, but African-Americans as well. The notable W.E.B. Du Bois, also crit­i­cized say­ing the din­ner cre­ated back rela­tions which he abhorred.

I never heard of this din­ner and I wouldn't be sur­prised if many oth­ers didn't as well. Ms. Davis men­tions that she didn't know about this incit­ing event either until Sen­a­tor John McCain (R-AZ) men­tioned it in his 2008 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion con­ces­sion speech.

"A cen­tury ago, Pres­i­dent Theodore Roosevelt's invi­ta­tion of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an out­rage in many quar­ters.
Amer­ica today is a world away from the cruel and fright­ful big­otry of that time. There is no bet­ter evi­dence of this than the elec­tion of an African-American to the pres­i­dency of the United States."
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8df1ea9c) out of 5 stars Fascinating Look Back in History 12 Jun. 2012
By P. Woodland - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. It's one of the best books I have ever read. It's a truly fascinating look back in our history at a time period when slavery had ended but African Americans were by no means welcome in society, especially in the South. It follows the lives of Teddy Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington - both well known to history, but I had no idea how intertwined and parallel their lives were despite such disparate beginnings.

Ms. Davis takes the reader through each man's early years and accomplishments with a balanced look - showing both their positives and negatives. It is not an in depth biography of both men but there is more than enough background to get a solid picture of their life. Booker T. was born a slave but was ambitious and determined to take every advantage of the freedom that came after the Civil War. He was hard working and could seemingly find away around any problem.

Teddy Roosevelt was born into a rich, privileged family but was sickly as a child and bullied as a teenager. His father told him to deal with it and so he did. He was full of an irrepressible energy but his life was not all a bed of roses. These two men from such opposite ends of the social sphere were fated to meet and yes, work together in a time that did not respect the intelligence of African American. One simple dinner invitation would almost destroy them both.

It was utterly fascinating to see the reaction of the country to Booker T. Washington eating dinner at the White House. It would haunt Teddy Roosevelt throughout his presidency.

The book is very well written in alternating chapters detailing each man's life and then dealing with the aftermath of that fateful dinner. It was an interesting look back into the mind of America at the turn of the 20th century as society thought itself so progressive. An interesting comparison to happenings in today's world as well.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8da8d720) out of 5 stars A questionable tie to history 4 Sept. 2012
By Jon Hunt - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In the introduction to her book, "Guest of Honor", author Deborah Davis reveals that she had never heard of the White House dinner of October, 1901, with Booker T. Washington as the guset of the new president, Theodore Roosevelt. She says at the end of the introduction that she believes this dinner changed history. It's a compelling thought but one not borne out by the book.

About two-thirds of "Guest of Honor" is used to describe Washington's and Roosevelt's lives in parallel lines. They were men of the same age, progressives, and as Davis points out, needed each other in their professional lives. It's a good primer for both men, especially if the reader hasn't much background about them. The dinner is then described and the fallout begins. Southern newspaper attacks on the president were numerous and some even blamed Washington, himself, for the decision to go dine with the president. But this controversy didn't keep the nation on its heels for a long time. As most "scandalous" events, it ran its course, though to be mentioned for sure when it was an upcoming political year.

Davis does well in talking about the social waves of the time but tying an entire book to one dinner just doesn't seem to pan out. It's an interesting read but not one of any major historical contribution.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8d9deb28) out of 5 stars Invidious 22 July 2012
By OOSA Online Book Club - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation" by Deborah Davis deals with respect and friendship that result when the status quo of social conscience is ignored. In a time when racism dictated behavior and set the parameters of social norms, Theodore Roosevelt dared to extend an invitation to Booker T. Washington out of expedience which resulted in both men having to pay a cost that neither could afford nor fail to afford. Simply, another conundrum that comes with public life and the inability to be everything to everybody.

"Guest of Honor" is a good historical review. Provocative parallelism of the lives and roles of two very different men impacted by the driving forces of time viewed from their unique perspectives resulting in profound leadership of each. This book includes enough historical documentation to make it believable infused with enough supposition to make it read as a novel rather than a chronology.

Of note, it was Booker T. Washington (1899), as well as many others before and since him that hoped for a black man as president, but who can count the number of men that dreamed of equality in this land. Racism is alive and well in America. Adaption has made it subtly useful, yet covert.
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