The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor–the Truth and the Turmoil

By Tina Brown

In The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown, I felt like I was getting the straight scoop. Or at least as straight as is possible. In addition, it was entertaining, seemingly agenda-free, balanced, eye-opening, and juicy. Alas, it relentlessly barreled towards the tragedy of Diana’s death, which, to put it lightly, put a pall on my wholehearted enjoyment of reading the story. All of the above adjectives also apply to The Palace Papers which, in addition, is sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny. There is a neverending stream of revelations and “Who knew?” moments involving Camilla and her first husband, Thomas Markle, The Spencers, the Queen Mother, and too many more to mention. I approached this one with more enthusiasm because as I write this, the main characters’ story isn’t yet finished. There is hope that everything will turn out all right for this crazy family.

In Tina Brown’s wry and clear-eyed analysis of the royal family’s characters and actions, no one escapes unscathed. Of course, some are more scathed than others. There is entertainment to be found on almost every page. If you can’t stand Prince Andrew and who does, you will take great pleasure in TB’s recounting of his degrading fall from grace. He’s even worse than you think he is. If you love the Queen, you will be discomfited to learn of the many times her habit of “ostriching”, that is, stubbornly ignoring red flags in order to avoid confrontation, has caused embarrassment and disaster. If you like Kate you may be disappointed that, yes, it’s probably true that she schemed and planned to catch William before she even knew him. And to keep him. And thank God she did. Catherine and William both as a unit and individually come off the best. As does her family, especially her mother. Also, Camilla. A lot of time is spent on Camilla and she emerges as somewhat of a heroine. And one you’d most like to be your dinner partner. Charles though mostly living up to his reputation as an “eccentric drip too needy, too vulnerable, too emotional, too complicated,[and] too self-centered,” in the end comes off pretty well. Why isn’t “Charles more celebrated for his strenuous progressivism, and for his demonstrably humane labors? Ironically, he cared about many of the things the liberal bible The Guardian espoused, and to which the [royalist and conservative] Murdoch press was instinctively hostile.” Surprisingly, Harry’s 2 most famous ex-girlfriends, Chelsy Davy and Cressida “Cringe de-la Cringe” Bonas, both come across as great girls that Harry would have been lucky to land. The despicable acts of the British tabloids drove Chelsy away. With Cressida, it was both the tabloids and Harry’s inability to manage his hatred of them. It was she who got him into much-needed therapy. Who knew?

William and Harry can only be understood in the context of their mother, so there is a lot of still interesting analysis of Diana and rehashing of her adventures. Volatile Harry idolizes his mother. He has inherited a lot of her qualities, both good and bad. He is more Spencer than Windsor. But he doesn’t understand her as well as sensible William. He was sadly privy to more of her unfortunate behavior and he is more Windsor than Spencer.

And what of Meghan and Harry? Whoo Boy. It is complicated. A lot of time is spent recounting Meghan’s history and trying to understand and explain her. In many ways, it all comes down to her non-understanding of British and Royal ways.

Meghan’s curious failure to prepare for a vocation that was the royal equivalent of taking the veil was a surprise to many of her former colleagues… Meghan as an actress had always been known for “doing her homework,” exhaustively grilling anyone who could help her for “notes.”

And the converse is true. Shouldn’t the Royal household have made an effort to understand her and explain things to her? “She found it draining to traverse the chasms between her California effusiveness and British understatement. It was her earnestness versus their irony, her explicitness versus their words unsaid.” It was a clash of cultures rather than personalities. “The British work ethic is a frustration for any alpha American hell-bent on “hitting the ground running.” William advised Harry and Michelle Obama advised Meghan to “take time”. Harry, to marry Meghan, and Meghan to make positive change. Neither of them listened. Maybe they would have, but time is something that Harry, wanting a family, and 38-year-old Meghan did not have a lot of. It’s a darn shame. She started off so well.

As one former Palace adviser put it to [the author]: “Very impressive. Very strong, very motivated, brought up to think she can change the world. It’s a very American type; we don’t have them here.” And she could have been just what the doctor ordered for the royal family. Now her platform is gone.

Meghan comes across as self-important, but, until her star aligned with Harry’s, uncomfortably aware her that actual social and professional status (6th on the call sheet) was not keeping up with her (very) lofty ambitions. Harry and Meghan are both too much alike. They are both temperamental and combative. They fuel each other’s distrust of everybody else and revel in their “us against the world” mentality. He did not want her to conform. That would not have suited his purpose. The other royal couples are successful because they balance and steady each other, not egg each other on. “My strength and stay.”

perhaps the most powerful survival element of the monarchy has turned out to be marital love. Without the caring resolve of the Queen Mother, George VI would have been a stammering introvert who could never have led the country in its hour of need. Without Philip’s bracing loyalty, the Queen could have been a lonely conformist, run by her courtiers. Without finally being allowed to marry Camilla, Charles would have suffered a slow death of the soul instead of his late flowering into an unapologetically happy man. And without Kate’s serene empathy, William might have collapsed under the pain of his childhood and the weight of his future. Diana’s two boys have each found the sustaining love that eluded her, even though in Harry’s case he chose to leave rather than allow his wife to be crushed by the media and the Palace machine.”

Ever since Harry was forced out of his chosen military career, which suited him perfectly and would have been the making of him, he had been unmoored and desperately unhappy. His escape, thanks to Meghan, was probably for the best. But can he weather the challenges of his new life and the necessity of making his own way? Given his history? Can Meghan’s ego be satisfied with her diminishing influence? And what about the rest of the Windsors? Can their institution survive the death of the Queen? It’ll be interesting.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 12, 2022

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN

by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

This is a fascinating, exhaustive, and gossipy look behind the scenes at ESPN. Eye-opening history and juicy anecdotes abound. This was written before the “Me Too” movement. One of the striking things that interested me in this book was the behavior of some of the male sportscasters towards their female counterparts. A few were really guilty of disgusting behavior. Some are just d**kheads. And yes names were named. I couldn’t help but believe that if this book had come out today (in 2021), many heads would roll and those interviewed would have been lots more closed-mouthed.

The best way to read this book is to go to the index and start with the personalities and topics that interest you the most. Do not read it front to back, because parts are quite dry ancient history. Once you start this way, you will find yourself reading background and going off on tangents as you want to find out more about topics and people that are mentioned while reading about your primary interests. Particularly entertaining is getting multiple viewpoints of the same people and incidents from different eyes. I ended up reading 75% of the book, even though there were really only a few personalities and topics I started off being interested in.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 10, 2011

Forever Young: A Memoir

By Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills movies have been my comfort watch for many years. Pollyanna, Parent Trap, The Moonspinners, and Summer Magic. The Truth About Spring and The Castaways were favorites of my childhood as well. I think of her with a great deal of fondness. Even gratitude. This book did not change my feelings. When I was over halfway through the book, I couldn’t help it. I paused in my reading and looked at both The Moonspinners and Pollyanna.

Because John Mills and his wife were so popular and respected among their peers, the book is chock-full of references about the leading lights of British Stage and film. Many many were not just casual acquaintances but good friends. And because their family was so solid, Hayley was right there.

We kids lived in the shadow of their great romance. It was the bedrock and stability of our life. We were molded to fit in with their lives, not the other way around. The other way around was unthinkable! Absurd! And yet that is precisely what was in the cards. If their twelve-year-old daughter was going off to make movies in “Horrorwood,” as Mummy called it, she would have to travel with me—and this would split them up.

I felt a little surge of excitement as I leafed through the crisp pages
[of “Pollyanna”], imagining the scenes on the big screen. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my father had opened his script too—“Swiss Family Robinson.” It felt good, knowing we all had a job with Disney. Daddy was always happiest when he was working. And if he was happy, then Mummy was happy. If they were happy, I was happy. That was my logic anyway.

Her films, even the later non-Disney ones, were full of the famous and revered. Famous not to everyone, but to those of my age who love classic films and are familiar with British cinema, I should say. Lots of Lords and Ladies!

Even though she adored her parents, her brother, and especially her sister, Juliet, there was darkness as well. Her mother was a life-long alcoholic and prone to depression. She was high-functioning, usually, but not always. Hayley struggled with adolescent angst, identity, and body image but of course, it was magnified by her fame and profession. All of her Disney money, which would have given her more freedom in her work-life balance was lost to the rapacious British tax system. Her marriage to Roy Boulting proved harmful to her career and less than ideal, to say the least. She does talk about some controlling behavior, but she has a lot of good to say as well.

There are a lot of encounters and anecdotes both great and small. Most are good-humored and all are written with the perspective of age and wisdom. Between the lines, though, a little sadness and regret do creep in from time to time. Roles not taken, love not pursued, her father’s lack of action in a few issues, being sent away for school. And especially her lawyer and family friend, who did not protect her trust. But she is always fair. And one senses that much is omitted that might not reflect too kindly on others. What shines through is that she seemingly was and is just as beloved by her friends and family as she was by her fans. Her childhood friends are still friends. Has anyone heard a bad word about Hayley Mills?

Most of the book, and of the most interest to me, is about her Disney years. After that the book kind of flagged a bit. For me, it ended how and when it should have. In her ’70s (!), she is in a good place now, and that makes me happy.

When it comes to being parents, I hope my boys learn from my mistakes. But did I learn from my parents? My mother battled with alcohol her whole life. She never really got the better of it and she paid the price. My father never stopped loving her, nor she him, but their struggle served as a warning. Not necessarily of the perils of drink, but the dangers of failing to face one’s demons. So perhaps her battle had a positive outcome after all. Maybe that sounds a bit Pollyanna… There’s no doubt that playing that character at such an early age had a lasting influence on me. It made me aware of the importance of seeing the positive.

But her son Crispian writes that the role of Pollyanna was perfectly cast….I think people will now realize that there is an element of Pollyanna in her that is very real. That was truth coming across on screen.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 27, 2021

Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-and Couldn’t

By Steve Volk

“We are, as a species, neurologically uncomfortable with ambiguity. Imaging studies of the human brain in action demonstrate that the fussy little onboard computers in our skulls send out anxiety messages when confronted by conflicting or confusing information. As a consequence, we have a natural, internal impetus to settle on an interpretation that removes any perceived conflict.”

“When someone advances an idea inconsistent with our own worldview, we don’t just disagree—we start painting a mental picture of the person we oppose as somehow deficient, all higgledy-piggledy in the temporal lobes, perhaps, or just an outright villain.”

The most eye-opening thing about this book is its well-supported position that scientists, skeptics, and atheists can be just as pig-headed and closed-minded and irrational as believers in religion or the paranormal. When faced with evidence of the paranormal or, perish the thought, that some things are beyond human know-ability, they react as fearfully and defensively as those on the other extreme. I learned a lot from this book, most of all that atheists and skeptics have no call to put themselves on some kind of intellectual high ground.

I found the author very even-handed in balancing his book between support for reasons to believe in paranormal activity, and support for reasons to be skeptical. Particularly compelling is his story of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her quite tragic end. Hers is a cautionary tale. But she also cannot just be dismissed by skeptics. The section on lucid dreaming was of particular interest to me. He concludes the book with a personal account of his own which happened in a house he lived in when he was a kid. It’s good he saved it until the end once he had demonstrated his level-headedness!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

August 20, 2013

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

By Sally Bedell Smith

“Your Majesty, I’m afraid everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong,” said Major Sir Michael Parker, an impresario for royal events with an expertise in pyrotechnics. “Oh good, what fun!” she replied with a smile.”

Even though this book all too obviously glosses over anything that could reflect negatively on the Queen, and thus paints Diana in a very negative light, I found it very informative and fascinating. Diana comes across as almost evil and a borderline psychopath. Quite a departure from the usual portraitures of borderline sainthood. I don’t hold with either extreme, but it was quite an eye-opener for me.

It is incredibly detailed. What I found particularly interesting were the portraits and backgrounds of each prime minister that has served under Elizabeth and their relationship with her. It was very educational. It was comforting that Prince Phillip really loved Elizabeth with his whole heart despite his frustrations and antics, which, needless to say, are not cataloged here.

“Like the princess, Philip didn’t believe in public displays of affection, which made it easy to mask his feelings. But he revealed them privately in a touching letter to Queen Elizabeth in which he wondered if he deserved “all the good things which have happened to me,” especially “to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 8, 2012

The Astronaut Wives Club

By Lisa Koppel

“On his previous Apollo 10 mission, a “dry run” for Apollo 11, Geno had radioed back to Houston that riding around the Moon was a piece of cake. “It was definitely not a piece of cake for me,” said Barbara. “If you think going to the Moon is hard, try staying at home.”

This book was very much a page-turner for me. At turns funny, dishy, and sad. It’s a great thumbnail sketch of what women’s lives were like in the ’60s. It would have been improved had the author scaled down a bit and focused more on the original 7 or maybe 9 and gone deeper.

I picked this up because I loved The Right Stuff and have read it several times. I would have liked to have had more of the wives’ reaction to that book which really defined them in the public eye in such an irreverent but ultimately respectful way. The only mention was when the author reported that one of the women threw TRS across the room because of her objection to Tom Wolfe comparing their group to the Officers Wives Club. Huh? That’s what was cherry-picked? And what is the name of this book again? It seems very self-serving of Koppel to only use this reference to Tom Wolfe’s book when any book on the astronauts or their wives owes so much to it.

The Right Stuff really gave the Astronaut Wives their due in both lyrical and hilarious prose. Many of the anecdotes were first told in Wolfe’s masterpiece and told much better. The dramatic confrontation between John Glenn trying to protect his shy wife from the press and Vice-President Johnson made you bite your nails and then stand up and cheer. Especially when the other 5 had his back regardless of their rivalries and jealousies. Tom Wolfe’s incisive reveal of the travails of Betty Grissom, and their self-aware inside jokes such as Mr. and Mrs. “Primly and Squarely Stable” when they were anything but are included here. I wish it had taken off from there and gone deeper rather than lamely rehashing entertaining but old material. I would have loved to read what Wolfe would have had to say about Pat White and her ultimate suicide, Alan Shepard barring one of the widows from her dead husband’s things, the interesting characters of Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell, and Alan Bean, and many others.

That being said, I have to hand it to Lily Koppel: she does give a glance at some of the quirkiness and bizarre personality traits some of the wives had to cope with in their husbands. Unfortunately, it is only a glimpse. It is more of reportage rather than interpretation and insights into the great drama and comedy it was. The book would also have benefited from getting some of the men’s perspectives and musings, now that they are old.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 17, 2013

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

By Mark Forsyth

“if you say, ‘Full fathom five thy father lies’, you will be considered the greatest poet who ever lived. Express precisely the same thought any other way – e.g. ‘your father’s corpse is 9.144 metres below sea level’ – and you’re just a coastguard with some bad news.”

This is a very clever and funny book about the wonders of rhetoric. This book is to be enjoyed for the overall appreciation it will give you for the myriad ways great writers wrote and why they were effective and why we remember their thoughts, sentences, lyrics, and paragraphs today. A little tweak here and there and many immortal passages would have perished in the ashes of time. If your goal is to learn specific vocabulary words and be able to give examples of each and every type of rhetorical conceit, you will be disappointed unless you have a photographic memory. My advice is: don’t even try to memorize the elements in order to, what? pull erudite and esoteric knowledge out at cocktail parties? Just enjoy. The great strength of the book is the many examples, perfectly chosen, of each trick and technique great writers used to get their point across. From the Bible to the Beatles; from Shakespeare to Lewis Carroll and Bob Dylan, Mr. Forsyth leaves no secret or subtlety unrevealed. His tone is full of fun, irreverent, and even joyful, even as its scholarship is impeccable. I’ll include one more long quote:

“John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven. It was about a “green great dragon.” He showed it to his mother who told him that you absolutely couldn’t have a green great dragon, and that it had to be a great green one instead. Tolkien was so disheartened that he never wrote another story for years.
The reason for Tolkien’s mistake, since you ask, is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.”

I also want to include a remarkable review by another reader which ably and cleverly summarizes the books contents:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 17, 2015


By Drew Barrymore

“And this filmmaker has the most extraordinary epiphany! He realizes that there is as much merit in trying to ease people’s suffering for a moment as there is in “focusing” on it. To ease someone’s pain through a distracting, silly, joyous laugh is his lesson. I know there is suffering, so to escape it for a second is truly powerful. That is one church I am staying loyal to. The Church of Laughing.”

Like everyone who wanted to read this book, I am a big fan of Drew as an actress and a person. She came through her difficult childhood, drug addiction, her terrible parents, and other major life challenges and bad choices to emerge a happy successful actress and producer with a sunny outlook. She seems very sweet and kind, and takes full ownership of how her life has turned out so far. She didn’t use her genetic disposition to alcohol and drugs and her incompetent parents as excuses end up in the gutter, as her father literally did. In addition, she is responsible for some of my favorite movies.

However, most of the stories in this book are rather dull. We hear nothing of her unusual marriage choices, relationship with David Crosby, who by all accounts took her under his wing and helped her beat her recurring drug and alcohol addictions for good. Remaining sober must be a daily struggle. I would have liked to hear more about that. I would have liked to hear more about her mother. There is a nice chapter on Adam Sandler, Steven Spielberg, her father’s last days, and an outward bound type trip with Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz. I would have liked to read behind the scenes stories on the movie set.

I guess the fact that this is not a Hollywood tell-all reflects very positively on her and negatively on me! But I would have liked to read something more along the lines of Rob Lowe’s books, which managed to be juicy, without being distasteful or mean.

I hope she is successful in maintaining the strong family life she has currently, as it clearly means the world to her.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 23, 2015

The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, the Infamous, and Why We Care Too Much About Them

By Julie Klam

This was an highly readable exploration about the nature of fame and celebrity. I finished it in one day. Nice juicy interviews with, and anecdotes of, those who are semi-famous, are friends with the famous, were once famous, and are still famous. Most interesting are insights into child stars that now lead normal productive lives outside the glare of celebrity. The interview with Tim Hutton was particularly insightful: He was the son of a famous actor, married and had a child with someone famous, and won an Oscar at a very young age. Another favorite was Quinn Cummings, who actually provided a review on Goodreads.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 21, 2017

Steve Jobs

By Walter Isaacson

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Out job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

I read this a while back.
This Biography reveals what a piece of work Steve Jobs was. And not in a good way. He was a genius in many ways, but a huge failure as a man. Those who idolize Jobs will be ruffled by this book. I do give credit to Jobs for choosing a biographer who was not afraid to be balanced and reveal his flaws as well as his genius and successes. And this fits with his character. He would not have tolerated a sycophantic puff piece. Even though he mellowed in later years, he was not a good man. It is telling that I have not heard or read of anyone who was close to Steve Jobs come out to condemn or dispute any of its facts or revelations.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 14, 2020