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As an American, I find the idea of bowing (or curtseying) to someone abhorrent. And yet, after reading Tina Brown's revealing book about the House of Windsor, I bow to her. "The Palace Papers" is entertaining and illuminating, but not tawdry, even as she deals with all kinds of tawdry actions.

Its theme could be "so many unfulfilled people." A monarch must produce an heir and a spare, but the life of that spare consists of lending royal sparkle to dreary events and waiting for something to happen to the heir. No wonder so many of them implode.

(Except for sturdy Princess Anne, who comes home in her ballgown, pulls on her wellies and goes out to feed the hens.)

Brown's writing is clear and witty. "Until he lost his hair," she writes, "Prince William was probably the biggest heartthrob to be heir to the throne since the pre-obese Henry VIII." That sentence doesn't just entertain; it reminds us how much a part of history this family is.

Brown is measured in dealing with most of the players — Diana, she notes, referred to herself as "thick," but manipulated the Palace and the tabloids brilliantly. (Her "leaked" story about slipping away at night to visit cancer patients was actually a cover for slipping away to meet her doctor/lover.)

The relationships that endured are those built on love and even-keeled support — Camilla and Charles, Elizabeth and Philip, Kate and William. But Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are a combustible pair — Meghan an ambitious American who doesn't understand protocol, and Harry a hothead still mourning his mother.

Harry could have helped Meghan adjust, "But he didn't want to." He was dying to blow things up. (And when he did — he was astounded.)

To understand England means understanding the importance of royalty. Brown gets us there beautifully.

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books.

The Palace Papers

By: Tina Brown.

Publisher: Crown, 570 pages, $35.