That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor
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That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

3.27 of 5 stars 3.27  ·  rating details  ·  2,034 ratings  ·  387 reviews
The first full scale biography of Wallis Simpson to be written by a woman, exploring the mind of one of the most glamorous and reviled figures of the Twentieth Century, a character who played prominently in the blockbuster film The King’s Speech.

This is the story of the American divorcee notorious for allegedly seducing a British king off his throne. “That woman,” so calle...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by St. Martin's Press (first published October 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Judith
OMG! Was the editor drugged or just sleeping on the job. This has got to be the most boring biography I have ever read. It reminds me of getting stuck in a corner with a person at a party who keeps digressing from one boring story to the next and never making any point but just rambling on.

Worse, the author makes wild suppositions about Wallis' possible DSD or hermaphroditism while making it clear that there has never been any proof of either. She goes on to explain that "IF" these suppositions...more
BonnieL
Possibly the worst purported biography written about the Duchess of Windsor. It seems to have been written solely as an excuse for the author to beguile readers with groundless and unproven speculation that the Duchess MAY have suffered from DSD (Disorder of Sexual Development), MAY have been an hermaphrodite (or semi-hermaphrodite), APPEARED to be masculine and had very large hands and, now hold your breath here, a diarist of the day actually wrote that she looked masculine. In that case, we'd...more
Geevee
Wallis Simpson - right woman, right place, right time?

Perhaps.

This highly readable and informative biography of Wallis Simpson by Anne Sebba suggests that had "That Woman" not come along and swept Edward, Prince of Wales of his feet Britain and its Empire may have ended up with a king who was unfit, uninterested and unable to fill the position that his brother so ably did.

Edward before he met Wallis was a royal with a film star following who connected with the people. He was also a playboy with...more
Kate Lawrence
The story of Wallis Simpson and her relationship with Edward, the king who gave up his throne to marry her, continues to fascinate, 75 years after they were married. The author gives us the facts and the speculation, being careful to distinguish between them. Even after looking at all the documentation, including some new material, Sebba admits no one can "explain the inexplicable:" how a middle-aged woman who was not beautiful and who repeatedly humiliated Edward in front of their friends, was...more
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
Wallis Simpson was guilty of four things: she was a woman, she was a commoner, she was a double-divorcee and she was an American. But, notwithstanding all these handicaps, she still managed to storm the House of Windsor. She shook the fusty old English establishment and she got her man, even when the man happened to be a king! The surprise here is even greater because there was something manly about this femme fatale.

I’ll come to this in a bit but first a word or two about a wholly compelling i...more
Simon
Completely meretricious, and I mean completely. She does nothing at all with the new material, Wallis' continuing correspondence with Ernest Simpson until his death, and the reader is forced to endure what can only be described as the cesspool of the author's mind. The Duchess of Windsor wasn't the nicest woman in the world, but I have read biographies of Hitler that displayed more empathy for their subject. Sebba would undoubtedly claim that she is trying to understand the woman, but when you d...more
Jennifer
I've always been interested to know more behind the story of Edward and Wallis. I heard on a podcast that Anne Sebba had access to some letters that were previously unreleased so I chose her book for my education.

The first third of the book focuses on Wallis' childhood and live before Edward. This section was all new information for me and I found it well paced and entertaining. Wallis' mother had many struggles which helped to shape Wallis' feelings towards money and security. However, Sebba m...more
Jemidar

Very readable bio of Wallis Simpson and the first written by a woman. Whilst sympathetic, it's pretty much a warts and all look at the woman, her life and the impossible situation she found herself in.

The one thing that did strike me while reading this was how much hasn't changed over the years. The public's' general attitude and response to the women royal men choose as consorts either out of love or duty has remained pretty much the same. Earl's daughters are good (especially if they produce a...more
Amy
Frankly, I was disappointed by this biography. If you have never read about Wallis Simpson before, this book may make a good-enough introduction. I've read about her all my life, though, and this book had no new information as well as a great deal of conjecture about hermaphrodism, substance abuse, and other un-verifiable claims the hungry press made about her during and after her life.

This bio had very odd pacing. About right for early years, then nearly half the book dealt with a sliver of ti...more
False Millennium
I only read this book, because I have read everything on the Dooch. There are some documents that have released since the publication of the last batch of books (some from the Queen Mother's correspondence,) but basically they don't reveal anything new: just reinforcements of what is known in terms of her Dominatrix personality with the Duke, her charm with men, her greed, the shallow life. I get tired of guesses about her sexuality or her possible skills picked up in some shoo shoo house in Sha...more
Margit
Normally, you'd write a new biography of somebody whose life has already been extensively scutinised by various predecessors when new material becomes avialable, or your own research has unearthed something hitherto unknown.
That's definitely not the case in this current biography of Wallis Simpson by Anne Sebba.She trundles her way through Wallis's life, without any psychological insight, new research or having talked to contemporaries.
She comes up with two startling opinions of her own, howeve...more
Jennifer Steil
This book was interesting to me, as I am currently living in London and need as many British history lessons as I can get. But I found the writing fairly pedestrian. Also, it was curious to me that the author says she feels Wallis has been unfairly portrayed as a horrid woman throughout history, so she wants to right this by granting her a fair portrayal. Yet one comes away from this book with a fairly black picture of Wallis. The author makes it pretty much impossible to like her. I also found...more
Brittany Compton
I'm not a biography writing expert, but wild conjecture and unsubstantiated speculation seem like no-nos to me. That's what most of the 120 pages I got through felt like, and then I just gave up. Sebba claims that Simpson was a hermaphrodite, and while this appears to be a popular rumor, she admits that there is no medical evidence to prove or disprove the possibility. Only the fact that she was childless, not very pretty, and sought power like a man were cited as "evidence" that this might have...more
Margaret
I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I think it had more to do with the woman it was about then the book itself. Wallis Simpson led a fascinating life, regardless of what you think of her, and for an Anglophile like me, it's loads of fun getting all the juicy details. The book also covers her whole life, not just her marriage to the Duke of Windsor, and makes you seriously question how much of a "love story for the ages" their marriage really was. The Duke comes off quite badly, a petulant stalker who...more
Cheryl
The story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor has long been promoted as one of the greatest love stories of all time. The world was stunned when, in 1936, Prince Edward--soon to become King Edward VIII --abdicated the throne of Great Britain in order to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcee.
Author Anne Sebba's extensive research, including information from interviews and previously unpublished sources, sheds light on Wallis' life and her relationship with Edward. She attempts to an...more
Catherine
I ignored the customer reviews and bought the book because although I was aware of Wallis Simpson, I didn’t know that much about her and thought her story would be interesting.

I only made it through a bit over half of the book before I gave up. I couldn’t read another sentence! The book suffers from poor editing, but even with a good editor I don’t know how you could turn Sebba’s self-indulgent writing into anything other than overly wordy conjectures. I kept losing my place, getting confused be...more
Bryan
Really how could I give this anything else? Wallis has been vilified? Sure. But considering her and the Duke of Windsor were two of the most evil people who ever lived maybe THEY deserved it? Or perhaps the fact this book was so poorly written I couldn't help but laugh. Maybe what really sealed the deal for me was the fact the author suggests Wallis was intersexed without providing any substantial evidence. Real classy.

Perhaps it deserves five stars because they really were the PERFECT COUPLE ev...more
Margaret
I started this without any burning desire to know more about 'that woman', but quickly became involved in this account of someone whose life came to be defined by her marriage to King Edward VIII. Though I found her on the whole unpleasant - someone who made a career of avoiding a career, by seeking to marry money and status - I eventually came to have a little sympathy for her. It seems she was far from hell-bent on marrying the king. Rather she became unable to avoid it, and both she and her s...more
Jules
I’ve never been precisely sure about how I feel about the British royal family. Of course, they benefit from my taxes but they also did away with many of their personal freedoms and general anonymity by their very birth right on entering this world. ‘Horses for courses’ – one might say in England.

I mention all this because, in essence, the life of Wallis (Warfield, Spencer, Simpson, WINDSOR) was locked away into royalty from her first involvement with Edward VIII. The exuberant American Wallis...more
Fiona Caldarevic
The more I read the more I disliked Wallis Simpson. Anne Sebba painted her as a woman only interested in two things - money and social status. For this she snared the King, and wasn't she lucky to find a King who was at her beck and call, and who gave it all up for her. (Although he seemed to have an awful lot of trouble actually giving it all up post-abdication; what a pain he was!).

I'm not sure if Wallis actually loved David. There was nothing in the book showing that she did, other than she s...more
Sidna
Another book for a book discussion that I probably would never have chosen to read on my own. Mrs. Simpson and the Duke were both strange characters who deserved each other. Edward apparently was popular in England for the few months he was King, but he didn't seem to have much vision for long-term solutions for the probelms his country faced. It seems that England was probably better off with his brother, followed by Queen Elizabeth.

The book was o.k. and Sebba is a good writer, but I always won...more
Katie
I have wanted to read a book about Wallis Simpson for quite some time so I picked this book up after watching the documentary during a trip to England. While a really enjoying read I found it difficult to accept some of the conjectures that Anne Sebba has made since there is no real evidence that backs them up except for remarks made by others who were not always fans of the couple.

The new evidence that drove this book to be published were letters that were discovered stating that Wallis Simpso...more
Mary Anne
Gah -- if this weren't a book club book, I would totally quit on this.

I really dislike retroactive, speculative pseudo-diagnoses of historical figure (i.e., I think the whole reason this person was the way they were was because they really had XXXX syndrome).

In this case, the author is positing that Simpson had a type of hermaphroditism, but without any actual evidence, other than one modern doctor looking at photos and speculating, along with some really broad general behavioral attributes that...more
Jillian
I was totally entertained by this but at the end all I thought was, "Be careful what you wish for." I blame this on the fact that it's now 12:45 A.M. Instead of poorly repeating what another has written, I copied and pasted it. This sums up my thoughts as well-------

"I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I think it had more to do with the woman it was about then the book itself. Wallis Simpson led a fascinating life, regardless of what you think of her, and for an Anglophile like me, it's loads of fun...more
Melissa
I would give this book five stars, if not for the fact that the prose is exceedingly dry. Wallis Simpson and the former King Edward VIII have interested me for some time, ever since I saw The King's Speech last year. I'd a rudamentary knowledge about the couple from reading history books, but there was something about them that made me want to know more.

Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor is typically portrayed as a villaness, since she was the one who made Edward VIII give up the throne. An...more
Alecia
Because this is such an enduring love story/tragedy, this biography is pretty good just by virtue of it's subject matter. I agree with some of the reviewers that the author brings up some issues with no proof to back her theories up. She bandies around various rumours such as the one that the Duchess (Wallis Simpson) had a sexual disorder, and was possibly a hermaphrodite. She also perpetuates the story I have heard before that Wallis learned some exotic sexual techniques in China, and that is p...more
Elizabeth
Readable and well-written bio of Wallis Simpson that concentrates on the early years and glosses over the last twenty years or so of her life. For the most part meticulously researched and avoids the gossipy quality of royal biographies with the one glaring exception of Sebba's grotesque speculation that Simpson suffered from a genetic disorder along the lines of intersexuality, testicular feminization or "hermaphroditism." And this is really the rankest sort of speculation, based on no more tha...more
Michelle
This book lacks the most important element in a biography: credibility. Fairly early on, Sebba puts together known facts about Wallis Simpson to formulate an incredible theory about her. Literally incredible, as it turns out. I found several news outlets who looked into Sebba's theories and found them to be bunk. In less than five minutes on the internet, I was able to determine the same. Later, she makes claims about a mental health diagnosis for the King that as a therapist I knew made absolut...more
Rebecca Tolley-Stokes
The first biography I've read about Wallis Simpson. Interesting psychological insights. What drew me to the book was its claim that it is the first Simpson bio written by a woman, but i didn't vet that. Other than some conjecture about the possibility that Simpson was born intersexed and rather outdated fluff about gender roles people tried to box her into at the time it seemed sound enough. Oh, other than referring to Simpson's "southern roots" and proclivity for serving "southern cuisine": she...more
Carol Best
Mediocre book about a pair of vain, snobby people. The best thing that happened to England and the Commonwealth is that Edward left the throne for "the woman he loved". He would have made a lousy king. For that, we should be grateful to Wallis...otherwise, she is best forgotten.
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Anne Sebba is a biographer, lecturer, journalist and former Reuters foreign correspondent. She read History at Kings College, London University and her first job was at the BBC World Services in the Arabic Department. She has written eight books, several short stories and introductions to reprinted novels. She has presented documentaries on BBC R3 and BBC R4, is a member of the Society of Authors...more
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