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The Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, arrive in England on a ship from New York in 1967. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Books For High-Society Aficionados

13 picks for "The Gilded Age" and "The Crown" devotees, featuring a pair of warring Windsors, eccentric socialites and royal trivia / BY Nathalie Atkinson / December 14th, 2023


Palace tell-alls Spare and Endgame may have bookended 2023’s royal revelations, but there’s plenty of high jinx in other aristocratic circles. Our picks for devotees of The Gilded Age and The Crown spotlight another pair of warring Windsor siblings, reveal eccentric socialites and offer a glimpse of the world inside palace gates.

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1Fashioned by Sargent by Erica E. Hirshler

This sumptuous book documenting the role of fashion in John Singer Sargent’s work is the next best thing to the landmark exhibition at MFABoston, which reunites portraits like Madame X with the actual antique garments worn in them by Gilded Age socialites. It features essays by academics who offer fascinating insight into how the painter portrayed his subjects’ clothing.


2The Princes in the Tower by Philippa Langley

In 1674, workers at the Tower of London unearthed remains believed to be the bones of Edward V, 12, and his brother Richard, 9, who disappeared in 1483. Long believed to have been murdered on the orders of their uncle, Richard III, it’s English history’s greatest cold case, which Phillippa Langley, the historian who discovered Richard III’s skeletal remains, purports to solve. The book chronicles the investigative and forensic process and findings of the global research initiative she established in 2016.


3Beyond the Gatehouse by David Long

This British writer has a knack for finding arcane and unusual information, and his latest on the lives of the most eccentric English aristocrats was finally published in North America in January. The promise alone! “This lifts the lid on all that’s bizarre, implausible, unthinkable and downright wacky about glorious heritage homes and their unusual occupants.” 


4Empty Theatre by Jac Jemc

The current Guggenheim Fellow blends fact with fiction to wittily reimagine the lives of two eccentric royal cousins, King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Elisabeth of Austria – a.k.a., Sisi, the famously beautiful 19th-century tastemaker known as the first royal celebrity. Those who avidly binge luscious period series are familiar with her, thanks to Netflix’s popular German costume drama The Empress,  and the recently acclaimed biopic, Corsage


5Royal Trivia by Rachel Bowie and Roberta Fiorito

Call it keeping up with the Windsors: The ultimate modern royals trivia from the co-hosts of podcast Royally Obsessed is a breezy handbook for watchers of The Crown (and regular readers of the Daily Mail’s ongoing chronicles), organized by branch of the family tree – the Cambridges, Sussexes and so on.


6Marvelous by Molly Greeley

As she did with The Heiress, the Michigan author has penned one of the best historical novels of the year, set in the French royal court of Catherine de’ Medici during the Renaissance. The lyrical writing recreates the true and surprising love story of courtiers Catherine and Pedro Gonzales that inspired the Beauty and the Beast legend.


7The Palace by Gareth Russell

Taking Hampton Court Palace as his lens to consider generations of British monarchic history, from its 16th-century construction under Henry VIII and the Tudors to the Windsors, the popular historian leads a journey through the social, economic and political history room by room, where the history was made.


8The Once Upon a Time World by Jonathan Miles

We could hardly put it better than the New York Times’ review of the British cultural historian’s romp through artistic and upper-class luminaries playground: “This breathtaking account of the transformations of the French Riviera over the last two millenniums is like riding shotgun with a racecar driver in the Monaco Grand Prix.” Craving more Riviera reads? This Zed listicle has got you covered.


9A History of Royal Britain in 100 Objects by Gill Knappett

Stamps, ceremonial regalia and the Domesday Book: A thousand years of royal lineage gets distilled into 100 well-chosen objects by this British guidebook author, organized chronologically by monarch, from Alfred the Great to Queen Elizabeth II.


10Diamonds and Deadlines by Betsy Prioleau

While the hostesses in The Gilded Age, everyone’s favourite low-stakes period drama, fret about serving soup at dinner, their counterpoint is the formidable but forgotten female figure from the era: self-made publishing tycoon Miriam Leslie. She was a pioneer in an all-male industry and ran the country’s largest purveyor of weeklies and monthlies for 20 years. If you’re listening, Julian Fellowes: Leslie’s colourful transgressive life included lovers, and a divorce that left her entire multimillion-dollar fortune to women’s suffrage. She deserves an episode of her own. 


11Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl by Renée Rosen

Rosen’s previous bestseller, The Social Graces, imagined the Gilded Age rivalry between the Astors and the Vanderbilts, and her latest is also a study in contrasts. Rosen unfurls the story of the young Estée Lauder in the scrappy early days of her business empire, told through a fictional salesgirl, Gloria, who works at luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue in 1938 and forms an unlikely friendship with the ambitious beauty entrepreneur. Determined to join high society, Lauder would go on to form the behemoth cosmetics company.


12The Windsors at War by Alexander Larman

The next volume in Larman’s biographical chronicle of the Windsor family finds them at a crossroads at the beginning of 1937, with Prince Edward,  Duke of Windsor, far too interested in Adolf Hitler’s expansionist plans for the liking of his brother, King George VI. It’s a chapter in how the squabbling, dysfunctional and divided family behaved during the Second World War (and wavered at critical moments).


13Capote’s Women by Laurence Leamer

Ryan Murphy’s latest examination of clashing personalities is the forthcoming Feud: Capote vs. The Swans (Jan. 31 on Disney+), exploring the tart-tongued society chronicler’s epic falling-out with his coterie of upper-crust New York mavens. I usually highlight books published this calendar year, but make an exception here, because this title from 2021 is both a delight and comprehensive. Murphy clearly thought so, too: It forms the basis of his eight-part series.


THE SCROLL

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Cormac McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Dark Genius of American Literature, Dead at 89McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 novel 'The Road.'


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Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."


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Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.


Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.


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Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


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Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


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Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


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