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On Royalty: A Very Polite Inquiry into Some Strangely Related Families Hardcover – May 7, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As Paxman seeks to fathom the mesmeric hold of monarchy—particularly British—on our imaginations, his remarkable access lets him spy closeup on today's royals. At a royal house-party at Sandringham, Prince Charles offers a world-weary explanation of monarchy's function: "we're a soap opera." An out-of-the-blue lunch with Princess Diana, who strikes him as a lonely woman who wanted someone to talk to, leads him to ponder the public passion she inspired. And the prospect of meeting the queen at a Buckingham Palace press reception finds the seasoned BBC host with staunch republican sentiments strangely overcome by nerves. Examining how royalty actually becomes royalty, Paxman examines how a monarch finds a throne (Albania invented a king in 1923 and sought an English country gentleman for the post); the matter of producing an heir; royalty's role of being, as one of Queen Elizabeth's secretaries put it, "in the happiness business." This wide-ranging work tackles everything from the enigmatic cuckolded husbands of Edward VII's mistresses to contemporaneous comparisons of the last moments of Charles I to the passion of Christ; George V's abandonment of his cousin the Russian czar; and the sticky finances of the House of Windsor and Charles's eccentricities. Paxman proves a vastly knowledgeable and tartly entertaining guide to a magical realm that is stranger than fiction. (June)
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"Paxman's fascinating and amusing book is an inquiry into the continuing potency of an anachronism" -- New York Times Book Review, July 8, 2007

"[Paxman] writes with a wry sense of humor and a keen sense of history... [He leads] an entertaining tour..." -- New York Times, June 15, 2007

"a detailed, firsthand peek inside the castle walls of the Royal Family...For Windsor watchers, [it]'s queen of the pack." -- Vail Trail, June 14, 2007

"a nuanced, if at times acerbic, look at the institution of monarchy" -- Sunday Express (UK)

"an informative whirlwind tour of European royalty that also brims with wonderful deadpan humor." -- Washington Post Express, October 16, 2007

"fascinating, well-researched, often amusing." -- Nashville Tennessean, May 20, 2007

Four stars--"riveting." -- People Magazine, May 25, 2007

Top Ten Summer Reads #6: "An escape for those who can't afford to use "summer" as a verb..." -- Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 27, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (May 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586484915
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586484910
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,630,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rebecca Huston on June 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read books for one of two reasons -- to educate myself and for entertainment. Every now and then I get lucky, and a book will provide both of my needs at the same time. And I confess to a certain liking for reading about royalty, usually because if the book is set in the past, the life of a royal person is usually going to be the most informative -- and have the most documentation -- of the period that I'm reading about.

BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman takes a very interesting look at European royalty and the interesting question of why do some fail, and others have managed to endure for centuries? Most of his story is, naturally, centered around the British monarchy, which has, more or less, survived for nearly a thousand years, except for one very brief break during the seventeenth century. I figured I was going to get not much more than a scandal sheet along with a few historical bits and pieces in On Royalty: A Polite Inquiry into Some Strangely Related Families. Was I in for a surprise!

Paxman dishes up plenty of salacious little tales, but most of all he explores just what monarchs do -- and what they don't. Or rather, shouldn't be doing if they want to continue to occupy a throne.

After a brief preface and introduction, Paxman takes a very logical and orderly fashion to his study of that rare species of human, that known as royalty. He starts with the most obvious of tasks, that of finding a throne to occupy, and establishing an heir or two to help secure things. And after all, there is an art to being and acting royal without looking like a fool -- or worse, an imposter. If you don't already have a heir, the best way to get one is to marry someone suitable, preferably just as royal as yourself, and produce an heir and with luck, a spare.
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Format: Hardcover
There is currently a reigning Queen in Denmark and another in Holland that I can recall, but who - for anyone the world over - is The Queen? We all know, and her name is the title of a box-office-storming film. The theme this time is not just `The Queen' but `Royalty'. The book duly contains a certain amount about royalty in Italy, Albania, Greece, Russia and old-testament Israel, but the author knows where his readers' interest will be focused, and these royal outriders are allowed to feature only insofar as they add colour to the majestic cavalcade of Elizabeth II and the ribald retinue of her own Royal Family, a group title whose reference is again impossible to mistake.

This book is no kind of tract. It is the work of an independent-minded and slightly cantankerous journalist possessed of a strong sense of the ridiculous, a certain sense of history and a grudging fairmindedness. Most of us, if required these days to devise a system of government, would not come up with monarchy as our proposal, and Paxman, I suspect, would be even less inclined than the next man to do so. Nevertheless he has to admit to himself what seems equally obvious to me, namely that republican sentiment in Britain, however logically the case may be argued, has never taken much more hold than the campaign, perhaps equally logical, for phonetic spelling.

In for a penny, in for a gold sovereign, Paxman does his best to explain why the British monarchy is almost universally tolerated and in many quarters held in high affection and regard, although one suspects in higher affection nowadays than regard. He rightly characterizes Bagehot's reasoning as condescending, but he is honest enough to concede (if I read him rightly) that it is somewhere near the truth too.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jeremy Paxman excels in turning out books which, while they might challenge and annoy you, always entertain. Here he turns his spotlight on Royalty, primarily on the House of Windsor with a few excursions to Denmark, Albania, and some other monarchical or formerly monarchical areas. Paxman is absolutely not a royalist. He finds the Windsors fusty, dull, uncouth, and implausible. He cannot see a reason why a modern government or society should have room for inherited power or position. Yet he acknowledges that, at least under Queen Elizabeth II, the system works fairly well most of the time for Britain.

I am an American of primarily British ancestry, and even though many of my forebears came to the New World to get away from the Windsors' forebears, I nevertheless feel a strong sympathy for and admiration for the British Royal Family. Paxman sometimes sets my teeth on edge when he's being particularly condescending to them, but nevertheless I chuckled and snickered much of my way through it. Occasionally he makes an error, particularly in his rush to condemn King George V for being afraid to allow his cousin Tsar Nicholas II into England after the 1917 Revolution. Others have also found fault with the King for this, which did eventually lead to the Tsar and his family's murder, but they forget or choose not to remember that when the King said no he was leaving his cousin in the hands of a democratic Russian government, not the Bolsheviks who didn't take power until months later, when it was too late to help the Tsar. There was no way George V could have known what was coming.

Despite errors like this I really enjoyed On Royalty. Paxman has a flair for fine writing, and he can turn a phrase with the best of them.
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