I read Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire while I was in Portland last year. This is a very rich book, and it is better than the average popular historical biography on several levels. Many contemporary books on "scholarly" subjects, such as history or science, are immensely "dumbed down" to the point that an average layperson such as me, who is college educated but not by any means an academic, feels quite condescended to by the writing style, and a bit cheated by the material. That is definitely not the case with Amanda Foreman's writing. It is never repetitive nor does it over-explain, and yet it remains not only accessible, but also gripping in places, due to the fascinating nature of the subject. As an example of what I mean, here are excerpts from two reader reviews on the Amazon website:
Alexandra from Manningtree: I'm lucky enough to have a history degree, but this book is so accessible you don't need one; Foreman just guides through giving you all extra info without sounding patronising. This has to be the best researched biography I've read... if only my academic reading was as fun.
A Reader frim London:I often feel that books aimed at the general reader, ie, someone like me who did not go to university, assume that we are all thickwits who can't tell the difference between good and bad writing. The one thing I loved about Georgiana is that the book has all the quality of academic history while at the same time being very entertaining. Although at times I had to concentrate really hard on a lot of unfamiliar information, I also felt I was getting the real thing.
A brief synopsis of the life of Lady Georgiana Spencer (great x4 aunt of Princess Diana), who became at 19 the Duchess of Devonshire, will give a taste of the rich and engaging tale this book tells. Beautiful, talented and gracious, Georgiana was one of the wealthiest people in the world, yet she was plagued by enormous gambling debts most of her life. She was one of the first women in the modern world to get involved in politics, at a time when women had not even the faintest hope that they would ever vote, and was alternately cheered and jeered for it by the fickle public. She was married to one of the most powerful peers in England, yet she gave birth to a child who was fathered by a man of lesser rank, and had to sneak away to the continent to do so. She was part of a menage a trois, being in love with the manipulative yet charming and somewhat pitiable Lady Elizabeth Frazer, her husband's sometime mistress. Although she died somewhat prematurely in her late 40s, she was a witness to or participant in many of the major episodes of early modern European history.