Picks and Pans Review: Charles at Fifty

updated 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Anthony Holden

It's an uncomfortable notion, but Anthony Holden—author of two previous biographies of the Prince of Wales—doesn't hesitate to voice it: In many ways, Princess Diana's death has been "a blessing" for her ex. With her do-good dazzle extinguished, Charles's quieter brand of service shines; his new primacy in his sons' lives, meanwhile, spares him the more vicious media criticism that flourished while Diana lived.

However, should the prince start to feel too pleased with his lot as he nears his 50th birthday on Nov. 14, Holden's book will remedy that. Once friendly with his subject, the author later took Diana's side and delights in noting Charles's foibles: He made Di miserable, he has backward ideas about architecture, he used to make girlfriends call him "sir" even in moments of intimacy.

Yet Charles also includes wise words on the monarchy's evolving role—and a sly fix for the Camilla Parker Bowles problem: The prince should take a page from Diana's media-savvy book. One photo "of the boys smiling in Camilla's company," Holden writes, "and public opinion would soon swing round." (Random House, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Flawed but fascinating portrait of a life in flux

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