(Random House, $35)
A very American story lies at the heart of this “lively, engaging” portrait of Great Britain’s first great modern king, said James Norton in CSMonitor.com. For most of his life, the future Edward VII was a punch line: His own mother, Queen Victoria, thought her “Bertie” an ugly baby and feeble-minded youth who eventually launched a long career as a caddish playboy by consorting with an Irish prostitute and thus sending his horrified, upstanding father to an early grave. But Americans never lose faith in the idea that the lowliest among us “can rise through effort, reform, and persistence” to the highest of heights, and that’s precisely what Victoria’s firstborn did. When he finally inherited the throne at 60, he didn’t merely emerge as a competent monarch: He redefined what a constitutional monarch should be.
Because Ridley focuses heavily on Bertie’s relationships with women, her book “can’t help being racy,” said Ferdinand Mount in The Wall Street Journal. “Few men have sought to seduce so many women so flamboyantly” as this Prince of Wales, and he was a glutton, an inveterate smoker, and a gambler too. But because we see Bertie’s life as an ongoing search for the affection his mother never granted him, all of the gossipy material feels “rather profound.” While traveling Europe and feeding his appetites, he was also developing crucial people skills that served him well when he inherited the crown in 1901.
“It cannot be said that most people on this side of the pond have been waiting breathlessly for a good biography of Edward VII,” said Michael Korda in TheDailyBeast.com. But “this is that rare book that is at once worthwhile and great fun.” Ridley has re-created a whole age—a time when Britain and the rest of Europe sat at the “lush apogee” of their wealth but on the brink of a paradigm-rattling war. Knowing Europe’s other monarchs as well as he did, Edward “almost single-handedly” coaxed France into an alliance that turned back Germany’s ambitions. For a second-rate son, he turned out to be “a decidedly first-class world figure.”