Prince Charles Book Review

Title: Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life

Author: Sally Bedell Smith

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Format: Kindle/Paperback/Hardcover

Pages: 624 pages

About the Book:

Sally Bedell Smith returns once again to the British royal family to give us a new look at Prince Charles, the oldest heir to the throne in more than three hundred years. This vivid, eye-opening biography—the product of four years of research and hundreds of interviews with palace officials, former girlfriends, spiritual gurus, and more, some speaking on the record for the first time—is the first authoritative treatment of Charles’s life that sheds light on the death of Diana, his marriage to Camilla, and his preparations to take the throne one day.

Prince Charles brings to life the real man, with all of his ambitions, insecurities, and convictions. It begins with his lonely childhood, in which he struggled to live up to his father’s expectations and sought companionship from the Queen Mother and his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten. It follows him through difficult years at school, his early love affairs, his intellectual quests, his entrepreneurial pursuits, and his intense search for spiritual meaning. It tells of the tragedy of his marriage to Diana; his eventual reunion with his true love, Camilla; and his relationships with William, Kate, Harry, and his grandchildren.

Ranging from his glamorous palaces to his country homes, from his globe-trotting travels to his local initiatives, Smith shows how Prince Charles possesses a fiercely independent spirit and yet has spent more than six decades waiting for his destined role, living a life dictated by protocols he often struggles to obey. With keen insight and the discovery of unexpected new details, Smith lays bare the contradictions of a man who is more complicated, tragic, and compelling than we knew, until now.

My Review:

I was more than a bit daunted by the size of Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life.  If you are also a little intimidated by the prospect of 624 pages of biography, let me ease your mind. First, only the first 75% of the book is the actual biography. The remaining 25% is mostly bibliography.

Secondly, Prince Charles is nearly 69. That’s a lot of years to write about. It’s hard to condense that much life (including Diana, Camilla, Harry, William, etc.) into less than 500 pages.

One of the things that struck me the hardest, as I was reading, was how difficult it must be to grow up and live under the weight of so much attention and responsibility.  And while, as the heir, Charles could basically get away with saying whatever he wanted politically, spiritually, or otherwise, do any of us really want that kind of freedom? Personally, I like knowing that there are people who will tell me when they think I’m wrong (like my husband, 😉

In addition, after 69 years “of doing what he pleased as an individual within the royal family,” once Charles takes the throne, “he would be transformed into a national institution, obliged to do as he was told.” How does one make that kind of transition? It’s mind-boggling.

In addition to reading about Charles’ quirks (shuns computers, “new-agey behaviors”, lives by an antiquated code of dressing and behavior), the juiciest parts of the book are the stories about Princess Diana and the Prince’s current wife, Camilla.

I have been enamored of Diana since she and Charles declared their engagement. I remember watching the wedding live on TV, in Germany, where I was staying as an exchange student. All I gathered from what I saw on the US news, leading up to and after the divorce, was that Diana was an innocent victim. Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life paints a much more realistic portrayal of the dissolution of a marriage that probably never should have happened in the first place.

Whatever your feelings about the Royals, Prince Charles is a fascinating read into the private (and not-so-private life) of the potential future king of England.

I give Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life five scepters!! A must read!!

I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of review. All opinions are 100% my own.

About the Author:

Sally Bedell Smith’s seven biographies, including New York Times bestsellers “Diana in Search of Herself,” “Grace and Power,” and “Elizabeth the Queen,” have all been about significant figures on the world stage. Her latest book, “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life,” published on April 4, 2017, was an immediate New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestseller. The first major biography of Prince Charles in more than two decades, it brings to life the real man, with all of his contradictions, complexities, and ambitions–a man with a fiercely independent spirit, yet who has spent more than six decades waiting for his destined role. Smith’s biography of Queen Elizabeth II won the 2012 Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence, and the 2012 Goodreads Choice Award for best book in history and biography. That year, Smith was also the consultant to playwright Peter Morgan on “The Audience,” his award-winning drama about Queen Elizabeth II starring Helen Mirren that led to his hit Netflix series, “The Crown.” She is the mother of three children and lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Stephen Smith.

Compassion – Thinking Outside Ourselves

I have to admit, that sometimes my anxiety can lead me to be a bit oversensitive. An offhanded  remark can feel like a knife to my heart. Something as simple as a deep sigh from someone I love can lead me to wonder why they are disappointed in me.

Other times, something so big happens in my life, it feels like a bomb went off, blowing up my world. How do I forgive someone for causing my catastrophe?


Compassion and Forgiveness Go Hand in Hand

As a Christian, compassion and forgiveness go hand in hand.  Ephesians 4:32 reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (NIV) As a child, and even as a young adult, I thought I understood the concept of forgiveness, but I was missing the compassion component.

Because I am extremely empathic (don’t even get me started on three-hanky movies), I  believed I was also compassionate. In reality, compassion and empathy are not exactly the same. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, says “Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.”

Once I understood the meaning of compassion, I started putting it to work. Did Art snap at me? Maybe I should ask him how his day was and see if there is anything I can do to ease his load. Am I hurt because a friend missed a phone call? As the saying goes, “the phone works both ways”. I can make that phone call and ask about her week.

It’s Not About the What, It’s About the Why

When  we realize that the other person’s actions are not about us, it becomes less about the what and more about the why. If we can determine the why, we can be more understanding about the what. And if we’re not caught up in our own hurt, we can prevent the situation from escalating and maybe even offer help to the other person, if needed.

Empathy and Compassion Don’t Trump Self Care

In the case of catastrophic acts, empathy and compassion don’t trump self care. While forgiveness is necessary for your own well being, you are not required to have a relationship with a toxic person who has no remorse. I don’t want to go into specifics here. Let me just say that while I have the tendency to overreact in small situations, I have also been known to under-react in disastrous situations. My fear of ending relationships caused me to accept abusive behavior for a long time. Compassion has enabled me to forgive and maintain relationships, from a distance, if necessary.

We Don’t Have to Agree in Order to Get Along

Once we learn how to use compassion towards those who hurt us, we can move on to show compassion in all our relationships.  Putting a human face on an issue has been proven to lead to compassion and understanding.

As an example, let’s look at the current political climate. Many of us, here in the U.S., have strong feelings, one way or the other, about the current administration.  Instead of deciding, generally, that all people who think differently from us are “idiots”,  let’s sit down with each other and discuss, either virtually or in person – not what we believe,  but why we believe it.

We won’t necessarily change the other person’s beliefs, but compassion and understanding can often lead to acceptance. We don’t have to agree in order to get along.

Thinking Outside Ourselves

“Putting a face on it” can also make us more compassionate to those we don’t know. Living down the street from a family who struggled to put food on the table, and later being in the same position ourselves, has led me to have immense compassion for those who struggle with food security.  I also have a heart for the elderly, starting at age 17 as a “friendly visitor” to home-bound seniors and assisting my church with nursing home visitations.

Since we have moved to Oregon, I have not yet found a church home or a volunteer opportunity. As preparation for this blog, I discovered our local resources, and will be calling tomorrow to see where my skills can best be used.

How do you show compassion to others?