Book 30 of 52: The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke by Sallie Bingham

Last month, a friend and I met up at Duke Farms, a 2,700-acre environmental center in Hillsborough, N.J. We spent the morning biking around the its car-free roads, looking at orchids, talking about…whatever, and then had a nice lunch in their farm’s cafe.

Then last week, I stopped by my dad’s house in Avalon, N.J. and saw a copy of The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke by Sallie Bingham in the give a book/take a book pile. I know I’d left it there (the publisher had sent me a copy in 2020). But hadn’t realized that this Duke was the name behind Duke Farms — or even that Duke Farms existed.

If you’re an NPR listener, you probably know of her too. She’s the Doris Duke of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. She was also the heiress to a tobacco fortune. Her father, James Buchanan Duke, created the kind of cigarette manufacturing and marketing that lead to the global rise in smoking and everything bad that came after it (and a lot of other stuff, but this is book about Doris, not “Bud,” as he was known)

Doris Duke inherited that fortune at 13 years old. The Silver […]

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Book 3 of 52: Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon by Kate Andersen Brower

How about some glamour, darlings? Then let’s dive into Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon by Kate Andersen Brower.

This new book is the third biography I’ve read of Taylor. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger is a biography of Taylor and husband number five (and maybe six, depending on how you count, as they divorced and remarried then divorced again) with a focus on that relationship; and How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor by William J. Mann is a supremely dishy read. I enjoyed them both, but Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon is by far the most comprehensive of the three.

Brower had access to unpublished letters, but she also talked to everyone — and I mean everyone. A short list: Carol Burnett, George Hamilton (yes they dated!), Brook Shields, George Hamilton, Anthony Fauci, John Travolta, Colin Farrell (who was a close friend), all of Taylor’s children, Richard Burton’s daughter Kate and his wife Sally. Brower said that 10 years after Taylor’s death, people were more willing to talk about her. The last few chapters feel […]

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Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I’m not going to write a long review of Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil for two reasons. First, it’s been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I’m in the frantic “do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker” level of packing before a long trip.

I can say that I didn’t mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts.

I listened to Brown’s The Diana Chronicles in 2019, on a road trip. I said then that it felt icky about the whole thing, so much so that […]

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Book 21 of 52: Miss Dior by Justine Picardie

I’m sure most people reading this book know Dior: the name, the brand, the fashion, the perfume, etc. But that’s not what Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture by Justine Picardie is about.

After writing a biography about Coco Chanel, she considering doing one of Christian Dior. Instead, Picardie became much more interested in his sister Catherine. While Christian’s creations have captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of people (including myself – I nearly wept when I saw the Bar Suit in December at the now closed Brooklyn Museum’s “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibit, which is also where I found this book), Catherine was a true hero. A member of the French Resistance, she was caught, tortured, and imprisoned at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where the Nazis murdered at least 50,000 women.

Picardie’s challenge was that very little is know about Catherine beyond the facts: birth and death dates, position within the resistance, when she was imprisoned, when she was released, and that she was an avid gardener (she worked as a florist after the war). Beyond testifying at the trials of her captors and torturers, she did […]

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