Book of the week: Flying Blind by Peter Robison

The Bloomberg journalist investigates the tragic failure of Boeing’s 737 Max plane

Lion Air aircraft
Lion Air aircraft on the first anniversary of the Lion Air flight JT-610 crash on 27 October 2019 in Tanggerang, Indonesia
(Image credit: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Andrew Lownie’s book about Edward Windsor and Wallis Simpson makes a familiar subject “seem fresh again”, said Marcus Field in the London Evening Standard.

He does so by focusing exclusively on the couple’s post-abdication lives, beginning his story on the “chilly December night” in 1936 when the duke, newly stripped of his status, set sail for the continent from Portsmouth, said Ysenda Maxtone Graham in the Daily Mail.

What follows is a tale of extravagance and resentment, played out in grand locations: a Rothschild-owned castle in Austria, various French chateaux, the lavish palace in the Bahamas where the couple lived during the duke’s time as governor. Lownie does nothing to challenge the prevailing view of the Windsors as a thoroughly “nauseating couple”.

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In fact, he goes further than most, suggesting that beyond simply admiring the Nazis, the duke was a willing participant in a Joachim von Ribbentrop-led plan to install him on the British throne once the War was over. “Darkly compelling” and full of “eye-popping details”, this is an “unrelentingly damning portrait”.

Yet it fails to overcome a central problem, said David Aaronovitch in The Times – which is that “after the winter of 1942-43, when the eventual total defeat of Germany became certain”, the Windsors simply weren’t very important. From this point on, the book descends largely into trivia, as Lownie details dinner parties the couple attended, mansions they refurbished, and the duchess’s lavish shopping sprees.

Towards the end, to spice things up, he relates “sexual tittle-tattle” – including the duchess’s supposed penchant for threesomes – but none of it seems especially reliable. Ultimately, it’s a “sad” and squalid story – a damning indictment of Britain’s “useless” hereditary ruling class.

Blink 352pp £25; The Week Bookshop £19.99

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