Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life
(Random House, $32)
The subject of this “vigorous, voluminous” biography has spent most of his 68 years in a state of limbo, said Steve Donoghue in CSMonitor.com. Great Britain’s Prince Charles has in fact been heir to his nation’s throne longer than anyone before him, and he has been watched, judged, and quite often found wanting as a potential figurehead. Still, “a kingdom could do much, much worse”: Though Charles can be petty and thin-skinned, he’s a hard worker and a man of principle. Vanity Fair contributor Sally Bedell Smith understands all this, and she brings skill and sympathy to her comprehensive portrait of Queen Elizabeth II’s firstborn.
Smith grants Charles more sympathy than he deserves, said Zoë Heller in The New Yorker. She clearly wants to convince read- ers that Charles, despite his unpopularity, would be a worthy monarch. But Smith’s endorsement is undercut by her own reporting: In anecdote after anecdote, the Charles we encounter is a ninny and a preening snob. Bullied at his boarding school, mollycoddled through Cambridge, he even had his sex life managed by handlers, resulting in his disastrous marriage to the then–19-yearold Diana Spencer. Today, nothing harms his standing more than his insistence on sharing his opinions on public policy and culture, an assortment of backward-glancing ideas “perfectly calibrated to annoy everyone.”
Charles, to his credit, “has learned to punch back,” said Quentin Letts in The Wall Street Journal. Britons may dislike that he lobbies government ministers to promote environmental causes or that he fancies himself an architecture critic, but because he has a populist streak, “the reader may be tempted to cheer” when the prince hijacks a snooty awards dinner to dismiss modernist skyscrapers as “ carbuncles.” Smith believes such moments offer evidence that Charles finally could win the affection of his public before he becomes king, said David Sexton in the London Evening Standard (U.K.). “He could. But perhaps those of us hoping he does had better not study his biography too closely.”