In my life I've probably read exactly one other biography, and I don't even remember whose it was. This book, though, it took me completely by surprise. It was compelling and moving and took me completely out of my surroundings and straight into the world of Lady Almina and Highclere.
It begins with an enthralling description of the glory and glamour of the highest echelons of London society, the lifestyles of the rich and extremely fashionable. Lady Almina led an incredibly charmed life, and union with Lord Carnarvon must have seemed like a fairy tale come true. Her personality leaps off the page, and I was in awe of her and her husband's busy and incredibly fulfilling lives. I loved reading about the 'belowstairs' people of Highclere as well -- imagining what their daily livess must have been like leaves me wistful for simpler times.
By the time the story took me to the First World War, I was heavily invested and incredibly overwhelmed. I'll be honest and say I know far less about WWI than I do about WWII, but this book brought it home to me. Reading about it in an encyclopedia is clinical and statistical; reading about the war through the eyes of a family in the thick of it and seeing the effects of the country's rapidly dwindling morale in detail, however, is an entirely different story. I was astounded and sickened by the massive loss of life on both sides of the war, and heartsore for the people who survived.
Still, the book brings you back from the depths of despair with stories of hope and restoration. Lady Almina and Lord Carnarvon moved in the highest circles and were wealthy enough not to ever actually to do a single day's work in their lives, and yet so many lives were affected by their accomplishments. It's amazing and I only wish I could accomplish a tenth of what they did in my own life.