Ann Bracken on life in the White House

  • January 22, 2021 10:49
  • Ann Bracken

What is life in the White House really like? Ann Bracken knows: she spent several years working as George H.W. Bush's secretary! From early morning runs to playing tennis with Pete Sampras, Ann really has done it all- and here we ask her some questions about her life with the President...


Why were you so determined to get into the White House?

Because I wanted to aim as high as I could, and if you grow up in Muncie, Indiana, the White House is as high as you can aim.

What made you write the book?

To encourage others to aim high, to show what working in the White House is really like and that starting in a very humble role doesn’t matter, as energy and enthusiasm will soon make it bigger. To remind everyone what a wonderful President George Bush Senior was.

How did you get into the White House?

By studying overseas, at the LSE, then working for my Senator from Indiana, getting to know everyone already working there – and sheer determination. I knew the President but never dreamed of asking him for a job. I was determined to get there through my own efforts.

How did you befriend the Secret Service?

By going jogging with them!

What happened when Queen Elizabeth made her ‘talking hat’ speech at the White House?

When we set up the podium with the microphone, the head of protocol forgot how tiny the Queen is, so when she made her speech all that could be seen of her was her hat!


Who were your favourite visitors?

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eric Clapton and Jon Bon Jovi.

What was the great national security advisor General Scowcroft most famous for?

Sleeping through Cabinet meetings because he claimed that nothing important ever happened in them!

What was George W. Bush like?

Very smart politically, more of a real Texan, more in touch with ordinary Americans. But he was a politician, not a statesman.

What is it like working in the Senate?

My Senator managed to overthrow a nasty government in the Philippines, but most of his time had to be spent in non-stop fundraising and dealing with lobby groups like ‘Beer Drinkers of America!’ My job was to thank supporters and reply to critics – ‘Reasonable people can disagree’ – though most of them didn’t sound reasonable at all.

What is Joe Biden really like?

A genuinely super nice guy who really wants to do the right thing, if his ‘progressive’ friends will let him.

Why were US politics better then?

Because there were more Senators who tried much harder to reach compromises with their opponents.

Who runs the White House?

The US Navy. So, in the mess there’s a lot of fish!

What about life after the White House?

No one can stay there very long. All you have time to do is work and sleep. You can’t really talk to anyone outside. Everyone is exhausted So there comes a moment when you need to leave – and to understand that politics is not what is most important in most people’s lives. So, the book is also about how to adjust and enjoy life afterwards.

How to be an alien?

I really love the Brits and their damp and foggy island. But I was warned they could be snooty about culture. So, I studied art at Christie’s for a year and befriended Philip Treacy to get access to his hats.

On your last day at the White House, what would you say to someone just coming in with new administration?

Be early to every meeting (being on time was considered late); wear business suits and low heels (but have tennis shoes for daily running around the complex). I always wore bright-coloured suits (red, yellow, purple), which I think was appreciated in a sea of blue, black and grey. Be enthusiastic and willing to do anything – once you are in the White House complex (having to get top security clearance from the FBI to be there), you realise there are very few people actually there in staffer jobs.

Other than the very important jobs (President, VP, national security advisor, White House counsel and chief of staff), everyone else is secret service, a secretary or an aide. My title was special assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel, which meant officially I helped choose the presidential appointments – Cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, Supreme Court Justices etc. – and helped them get confirmed by the Senate. But in fact, I took over the intern program (because no one else offered), and I had the interns set-up for state dinners and presidential arrival and departure ceremonies on the South Lawn when he left or arrived in Marine One. I procured furniture for the national security advisor from the Navy, I went running with the President, played tennis with the President and helped the press secretary with press conferences.

I made myself available to work on anything that was necessary, as the secretaries were tied to their desks and the important men and women were running the country. Working this way, instead of just sitting at my desk, let me meet not only everyone in the White House but most of the President’s visitors. After Pete Sampras won the US Open at age nineteen, the President invited him to play at the White House. His son, Marvin, was the third, and I was asked to play as the fourth for a game of doubles. Things like that happened because I was known to the staff as available and enthusiastic.

Lastly, say goodbye to a social life. You will not sleep, and you are tested for drugs regularly, so no help with medication. But it’s the greatest experience and the contacts and skills you make will last a lifetime.


Interest piqued? Ann's book, How to Break Into the White House, is out now: get your copy here.


The Biteback End of Year Roundup

  • December 30, 2020 14:46
  • Vicky Jessop

It’s been a long and extraordinary year, but we’re ending 2020 on a high!

We’re thrilled to have published so many fantastic books over the course of the year, and the end of year round-ups are saying much the same.

The Spectator’s Sara Wheeler chose Andrew Adonis’s book Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill as one of her picks of the year in their 2020 round-up- and so did The Times, in their round-up of the year’s best Political and Current Affairs books.

This year has also been a year for great women, and we’ve seen Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Ladies Who Punch chosen as Woman and Home’s best source of feminist inspiration, while Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography has made it onto the list of Waterstones’s best Political Books.

Next year, stay tuned for some great reads, including Penny Mordaunt and Chris Lewis’s book Greater, which offers a new vision for the UK and how to bring it together, and John Quin’s Dr Quin, Medicine Man, which is a look at the NHS from a completely new angle: that of an endocrinologist, or hormone specialist.

We're looking forward to seeing you all in 2021!


The Biteback Black Friday sale is ON!

  • November 27, 2020 00:00
  • Vicky Jessop

Black Friday is finally upon us and we’re celebrating the oncoming festive season by offering 50% off all our books this weekend!

From 27-30th November, you can browse and shop to your heart’s content, with free postage and packaging on orders above £30.

And if the sheer number of books on display has you confused about what to go for first, we’ve curated a list of our latest releases that are sure to make great stocking fillers- or winter reading!

Take a look below for more:


On politics

The Secret Life of Special Advisers, by Peter Cardwell

In a nutshell: a hilarious, eye-opening look at a life spent advising ministers as a Special Adviser, or SpAd. Expect party conference disasters, job instability and Boris Johnson hiding from Iain Duncan Smith.

Only £10: get it here.

John Bercow: Call to Order

In a nutshell: if you’ve ever wanted to know what made John Bercow into the man he is today, look no further. This biography examines the highs and lows of Bercow’s career- from the infamous Monday Club to his legacy as Speaker.

Only £10: get it here.

Going for Broke, by Michael Ashcroft

In a nutshell: Rishi Sunak is so new to politics that nobody has written a biography of him- until now. Michael Ashcroft takes a look at one of the youngest Chancellors we’ve ever had, and asks what has made him so successful.

Only £10: get it here.

Beyond the Red Wall, by Deborah Mattinson

In a nutshell: seasoned pollster Deborah Mattinson heads north to the Red Wall to find out why it turned blue in the last general election.

Only £8.50: get it here.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, by Jonny Oates

In a nutshell: how can you change the world? Jonny Oates has been doing it all his life- from boarding a plane to Addis Ababa aged 15 to becoming Nick Clegg’s Chief of Staff. It’s a candid and fascinating look at a life beyond politics.

Only £10: get it here.


On feminism

Exceeding My Brief, by Barbara Hosking

In a nutshell: Barbara Hosking has lived a colourful life, serving two Prime Ministers, working at a copper mine in the African bush and coming out in her nineties. This is the fascinating story of her life.

Only £5: get it here.

Diane Abbott, by Robin Bunce and Samara Linton

In a nutshell: Diane Abbott has been breaking records since she first set foot in the Houses of Parliament. Thirty years later, this book looks at her remarkable life- and legacy.

Only £10: get it here.

Ladies Who Punch, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

In a nutshell: a witty, far-reaching compendium of ladies who have changed society for the better. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown takes the reins to introduce us to some names we know- and some that should be better remembered.

Only £8.50: get it here.


On the royal family

The Last Queen, by Clive Irving

In a nutshell: the royal family has weathered its fair share of media scandals. Seasoned journalist Clive Irving explains the pact that the Queen has made with the UK’s newspapers- and why she might in fact be the last queen of the United Kingdom.

Only £10: get it here.

Royalty Revealed, by Brian Hoey

In a nutshell: ever wondered how to tip a royal servant? Or what Prince Charles takes with him on holiday (answer: his own toilet seat). This neat little collection of royal facts is perfect for slipping into a pocket and entertaining on the go!

Only £5: get it here.

Kensington Palace, by Tom Quinn

In a nutshell: Kensington Palace has been a mainstay of royal life ever since it was built in the 1700s. Find out about the colourful characters who have lived there- from George III right through to Diana and Meghan.

Only £10: get it here.


On sports

Sacré Bleu, by Matt Spiro

In a nutshell: from winning the World Cup in 1998 to suffering years of divisions and acrimony, the French national football team has had its share of highs and lows. Find out how they triumphed to lift the trophy again in 2018, thanks to skilled player Kylian Mbappé.

Only £9.50: get it here.

When Footballers Were Skint, by Jon Henderson

In a nutshell: ever longed for the days when football was more homespun and your average footballer earned less than a plumber? Jon Henderson resurrects the glory days of the beautiful game in this tribute to days gone by.

Only £5: get it here.

Bloody Southerners, by Spencer Vignes

In a nutshell: Often outrageous and always compelling, Peter Taylor and Brian Clough’s partnership shook the very foundations of the footballing world. Find out how from the players who were there.

Only £6.50: get it here.


On history

Ernest Bevin, by Andrew Adonis

In a nutshell: a Labour great, whose talent for getting results saw him compared to Churchill, has mostly been forgotten. How? Andrew Adonis seeks to right the scales, giving a detailed and fascinating look at a man whose impact on history is far-reaching and surprising.

Only £10: get it here.

The Secrets of Station X, by Michael Smith

In a nutshell: the astonishing story of how the British codebreakers of Bletchley Park cracked the Nazi Enigma cyphers, cutting an estimated two years off the Second World War, never ceases to amaze.

Only £5: get it here.

Shackleton's Heroes, by Wilson McOrist

In a nutshell: a gripping account of the men who ensured that Ernest Shackleton's fabled Trans-Antarctic Expedition succeeded.

Only £5: get it here.


Introducing London's Mayor at 20

  • November 24, 2020 09:55
  • Jack Brown

On the publication day of London's Mayor at 20, Jack Brown tells us why he, Tony Travers and Richard Brown decided to put pen to paper...


The position of Mayor of London, established in 2000, turned twenty this year. So perhaps it is appropriate that the mayoralty is finally moving out of the house it grew up in. The Greater London Authority – which consists of the mayor and the London Assembly – is set to shift from City Hall near London Bridge to the Crystal building in the Royal Docks in 2021. The move is hoped to save £61 million over five years, and help aid regeneration.

The mayor’s parents should be pleased. In fact, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government created the position, has written the foreword to our review of the mayoralty’s first twenty years. He was one of several who could claim parenthood of London’s mayoralty. He seems a proud father today:

‘Could we imagine not having a Mayor of London today? … Never forget that the position of a London mayor was at the beginning politically controversial – the 1980s had seen the abolition of the Greater London Council – and three terms of government were important in bedding the institution down. Now its abolition would be unthinkable.’

Centre for London and Professor Tony Travers of the LSE are keen observers of London government. At the start of the year, we decided to team up to commemorate and evaluate the first two decades of the London mayoralty. A team of expert, independent contributors were commissioned to evaluate the performance of successive mayors in a range of different policy areas: from transport to culture, economic development to policing. Well-placed practitioners were asked to share their recollections of key moments in the very recent history of London and its government, under all three mayors, in a series of short ‘vignettes’ that help bring the story to life.

After the decision was taken to mark the occasion with a book, the capital was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The challenges of writing the book suddenly seemed somewhat less significant. The capital’s streets fell silent, particularly in central London. Transport for London’s finances were plunged into crisis, as fares evaporated. London’s future itself seemed bleak and uncertain.

Less significantly, the book’s authors were also locked indoors. This provided time to write, but it did not necessarily help with morale. With a little distance, I can now look back and say I am proud of what we have produced.

The book arrives at a time of great uncertainty for the future of both London and its mayoralty. Relations between central and London-wide government are perhaps at their worst in the mayoralty’s twenty years. London-wide government has been repeatedly established, reformed and abolished by central government in the past. Is there is a chance that this book, published to celebrate a significant anniversary for the mayoralty, could also end up as its obituary?

We hope not. While there are strengths and weaknesses in mayoral power and performance, both across its twenty-year existence and today, the book is broadly positive about the role itself. It has delivered significant major projects for London, from the Olympics to Crossrail (even if the latter has taken a little longer than first hoped). It has driven improvements and innovations in the capital’s infrastructure, and provided important civic leadership for Londoners at times of celebration and crisis. The mayor has been a powerful advocate for the capital, both to central government and around the world, to the betterment of the city and its people.

We hope that the mayoralty’s future will be bright, and that taking a moment to pause and reflect on the last twenty years now will provide some lessons for the next twenty, as well as for city governance elsewhere in the UK and around the world. But on top of that, I assure you it’s a cracking read.


Interest piqued? London's Mayor at 20 is out today: take a look here!


Calling all lovers of The Crown!

  • November 17, 2020 11:23
  • Vicky Jessop

It's November and once again we're all glued to Netflix as the latest series of The Crown takes to our screens.

From Princess Margaret to Diana, our fascination with the royal family has seen us follow their every move for more than a hundred years. But if you're looking to find out a bit more about the truth behind the television series, then why not check out these pieces by our royal authors Tom Quinn and Clive Irving?


'The Crown' season 4: Did Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher get along?

'The Crown': How strained was Diana's marriage to Charles?

Queen Elizabeth II's 'battle to save monarchy' subject of sensational new book

The Crown season 4 fact vs fiction: From the Buckingham Palace break-in to the Queen’s audiences with Thatcher


Interest piqued?

If you're looking to find out more about the real lives of the royal family, we've got you covered.

For people who want to find out more about the lives of Diana, William and Kate and Meghan Markle, Tom Quinn's book Kensington Palace is out now.

On the other hand, if you fancy delving into the history of the royal family instead, check out Mrs Keppel and Backstairs Billy: Tom Quinn's explorations of a very famous royal mistress and a butler who was almost as well-known as the Queen Mother!



If you want to look at the Queen's struggle to save the monarchy, then Clive Irving's book The Last Queen is the perfect next stop for you. 

Read an exclusive extract here!