Book Review: Spare by Prince Harry

Today I’m finally sharing my SPARE by Prince Harry. I think, for most of you, this book probably needs no introduction. Regardless, this is Prince Harry’s memoir from around the time his mother died to approximately present day. I apologize in advance for the lengh of this piece. But I had a lot to say about how some niches of the book community received this book.

Author: Prince Harry
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: January 10, 2023
Print Length: 416

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Official Synopsis

It was one of the most searing images of the twentieth century: two young boys, two princes, walking behind their mother’s coffin as the world watched in sorrow–and horror. As Princess Diana was laid to rest, billions wondered what Prince William and Prince Harry must be thinking and feeling–and how their lives would play out from that point on.
For Harry, this is that story at last.

Before losing his mother, twelve-year-old Prince Harry was known as the carefree one, the happy-go-lucky Spare to the more serious Heir. Grief changed everything. He struggled at school, struggled with anger, with loneliness–and, because he blamed the press for his mother’s death, he struggled to accept life in the spotlight.

At twenty-one, he joined the British Army. The discipline gave him structure, and two combat tours made him a hero at home. But he soon felt more lost than ever, suffering from post-traumatic stress and prone to crippling panic attacks. Above all, he couldn’t find true love.

Then he met Meghan. The world was swept away by the couple’s cinematic romance and rejoiced in their fairy-tale wedding. But from the beginning, Harry and Meghan were preyed upon by the press, subjected to waves of abuse, racism, and lies. Watching his wife suffer, their safety and mental health at risk, Harry saw no other way to prevent the tragedy of history repeating itself but to flee his mother country. Over the centuries, leaving the Royal Family was an act few had dared. The last to try, in fact, had been his mother. . . .

For the first time, Prince Harry tells his own story, chronicling his journey with raw, unflinching honesty. A landmark publication, Spare is full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief.

My Review

Let me start right off the bat and say this review of SPARE by Prince Harry is more in the style of a commentary. I did this with THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS. When there are already so many reviews floating around for bestsellers, I prefer to take the commentary approach.

I went into this not really knowing much about Prince Harry’s life. I knew some generalities and the past few years of events, no thanks to how awfully the media portrayed Meghan. So, I definitely wouldn’t call myself a royal watcher. I fall more in the category of “casually clicking on headlines.” I am aware of the highly publicized events. Frankly, it’s hard not to be when media splash them on the front page.

I approached SPARE not as a tell all, but as an autobiography by someone who wants to tell his own side of the story without the media twisting events. I am also fully cognizant that it is one side of the story, much like the documentary Harry and Meghan made for Netflix. However, I do feel that Harry tactfully shares his life with readers, despite it being within his right to lambast all of the crooked reporters he encountered in his life. The buzz about this book made it seem like Harry shared some super juicy information about his family. And, I suppose by British and royal standards it is juicy, particularly because of the more subdued expression of opinions in British culture and the intensely private nature of the institution.

I wasn’t expecting a large portion of the book to focus on Harry’s time in the military. Personally I found this entire section boring. Objectively, I understand why it has a lot of page time. It was an incredibly formative experience for Harry in a number of ways. It gave him a purpose, taught him leadership and new skills, provided camraderie and a found family. The military also gave him much needed breathing room away from the press to think.

I appreciated Harry’s vulnerability in talking about his mental health throughout SPARE. It is amazing he’s doing as well as he is given the environment in which he grew up. It sounds so toxic. I know, and he knows, he was born into privilege, but that doesn’t excuse the actions of the media nor the institution.

Which brings me to my next point. SPARE isn’t a book about atonement. Within the book review sphere I’ve seen some express disappointment that Harry didn’t devote more time to making amends for wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party all those years ago. Those who seek a lengthy atonement for his choice should look elsewhere. SPARE is a book about Harry’s life, not a book about combatting societal injustices. He mentions making this poor decision. And he mentions having some important discussions with a rabbi afterward. Obviously he shouldn’t have chosen that uniform as a costume. Nor should his family have encouraged it. Let’s acknowledge that most people have the sense of mind to recognize that a Nazi uniform is not an appropriate choice for a costume, ever.

That said, can we just give Harry the space to be a human? Society is, broadly, so hell bent on persecuting people for past bad decisions. I feel this is true even if/when they share they’ve done some learning since said event. Yes, I acknowledge that Harry has a platform on which he can use his privilege to advance social justice. But, at the end of the day, each and every one of us is human, no matter how famous or not we are. And I think everyone deserves the space to reflect on their life without having to advance an agenda. Harry chose to reflect publicly because he’s a public figure who had his story stolen and twisted his entire life by malicious media. And, even though Harry received payment for this book deal, he chose to do this as a way to heal from all of the trauma induced by the media and the institution.

We can never know the full story or the extent to which someone has done work on themselves to be a better person. Would you want everything laid bare? Especially in today’s world where it seems like there is an infinite amount of people to twist what you say? Or those who take an omission of something and spin it into a narrative that you didn’t say or mean?

All this to say, have some compassion. I am not an apologist for his past behaviour with respect to the Nazi uniform. But remember to be kind and give the benefit of the doubt sometimes. Also, it’s impossible to take on and champion every single social injustice issue. And sometimes I feel like society expects public figures to take on every issue. Again, what Harry did was wrong, but I’d like to believe he knows this now.

As an side, it surprised me when he said he didn’t know enough about the Nazis. He mentioned his lack of knowledge was a failure of education and self-education (Loc 3349). I mean, I’m American and was taught fairly extensively about the Nazis. England was bombed by them, so how it was a failure of education is beyond my understanding of their education system. Or maybe I had the privilege to go to a public school system that valued teaching truth.

“Centuries ago royal men and women were considered divine; now they were insects. What fun, to pluck their wings.”

Loc 847

Rating: 4
Content warnings: death, death of a parent, harrassment (media)
Reading format: Library e-book

Nonfiction Reader Challenge

2023 Nonfiction Reader Challenge banner

I am including this SPARE by Prince Harry book review as part of the Nonfiction Read Challenge to fulfill the Memoir/Biography category.

Have you read SPARE by Prince Harry? What were some of your thoughts about it?

16 thoughts on “Book Review: Spare by Prince Harry

  1. I’ve been waiting to hearing your opinion and take on Spare and today is the day. I also found Spare not as juicy as the media made it out to be. In most parts it is a reflective account of Harry’s life. The first part was very engaging and his personality showed growth. The second part in the military was dragged and plain boring (agree here with you). I understand why it took so much space in the book but essentially it boils down to that his time and also abilities to do something there were limited. Nevertheless a time that left a mark on him. The third part feels like a different person wrote it. There’s only so much overly dramatic expressions until I eye-rolled (fleeing my country aka I have a private jet and escaped to Africa or America just like that because I can) #GimmeABreak I do follow the British Royal Family news and I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle. It was brave of him to come out and speak out even though the effect has not had the effect he may have wished for.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    1. I agree about the first part of the book–it was interesting to get a glimpse of what his early life was like before everything went downhill during his teenage years. I also agree that I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style. I don’t overtly remember rolling my eyes at any of the expressions, but at times I felt the metaphors were a bit forced. I felt the writing style was too stream-of-consciousness for my preferences. However, I’ve been told it works well in audiobook format, particularly because Harry narrates it himself. You’re right that it was brave of him to speak his truth in spite of everything going on.

  2. Idk, for someone that has zero interest in being a prince (and I kind of see him as a laughingstock, moreso after hearing many brits’ opinions of him ?‍♀️) yet, he uses prince as his author name. I have hard passed on this book so far ?

    1. That’s his name. It’s not just a title. He will always be prince whether he wants to or not as his father is king. You can take away the Duke of Sussex surname but that won’t change anything. Also, I don’t know anyone that has changed their name because they left the family business or fell out with their family.

    2. I’m far from familiar with how naming works in the royal family, but I think I remember hearing something about how they don’t have (or was it use?) last names. I think the Prince is part of his name? I’m not quite sure how it works. Maybe he could’ve gone by Harry, Duke of Sussex instead? I truly don’t know and I should just stop speculating here because I just don’t have time to look into it. 😛 Regardless of whether you’re interested in anything related to the royal family, I do think we can all agree the British paparazzi media are abhorrent.

  3. I haven’t read this, but I have a soft spot for Harry, especially having followed the Diana years and the horrible events after her marriage. I feel the same, people make mistakes and should be allowed to be human. Thanks for sharing your thoughts?

    1. Of course, I feel empathy for anyone who loses a parent, particularly at such a formative age and in the public eye. The last part made it so much worse. I feel very strongly about giving people grace with respect to mistakes they made in their youth. Everyone (well, most people) deserves to learn from their mistakes and not be villainized about them for the rest of their life.

  4. I haven’t read the book but am definitely surprised that he says he knew little about the Nazis. I don’t think that there is a school in the UK that doesn’t deal extensively with this part of history. Sometimes I feel we spend too much time on it. I suspect it might say more about Harry’s attention as a student rather than the school not teaching the truth

    1. I think he moreso meant the lasting affects of nazism and how it affected people in present day. Considering that the royal family has connection to nazis, I’m sure they tried distance themselves from discussion around it.

    2. That possibility also crossed my mind. That is, Harry talks about how he wasn’t a good or very attentive student, so maybe he just didn’t pay attention? I don’t know, I’m still skeptical about that part, considering WWII was a huge deal. But, I’m not him, so obviously I have only my opinion, not fact.

  5. Nice review, Celeste.

    As a Brit mildly hostile to the idea of royalty as an institution, I approached this book with a fair bit of trepidation.

    Still, I found it to be a surprisingly engaging read. What really impressed me was how authentic it was too. This is, I suspect, as much down to the excellent ghost writer as it is Harry, but it definitely helped bridge that connection with the reader.

    Some of it feels a little glossed over, and I’m not sure how much I buy his lack of knowledge around WWII history. He comes from military family, and school curriculums focus on it heavily. Regardless, we’ve all done dumb shit in our teen years and early 20s. He’s clearly not a fascist.

    I think what spoke to me most about this book though is how it tackles mental health issues. This is, in my view, a book about experiencing childhood trauma and learning how to put yourself back together. Sadly, I could relate a lot to this, and I think readers of similar experiences will too. But it did make for a powerful read in that respect.

    Ultimately though, it feels like a genuinely authentic (for the most part) and well-written memoir, and I’m glad that I read it.

    1. Thank you, John! I don’t know if I can comment on the authenticity because I haven’t been surrounded all my life with news about the royals. But I do think it was admirable of him, in a way, to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and tell his side of the story to try and put the record straight.

      I agree with you about the WWII history education. I commented above to Janette that I’m skeptical of the fact that he didn’t learn much about WWII and the Nazis because of his own educational shortcomings (e.g., his poor attention in class). I might believe it more now if a 16 year old told me that given the state of politics at the moment (I’ve read that a lot of younger people, and sometimes older people, don’t really comprehend the atrocities of WWII). But I’d like to think in the 90s history about Nazis was taught in school?

      It was good to see him talk about mental health. I can’t even begin to fathom how he felt during that entire time. And I’m sure it’s still really tough for him.

  6. I agree with your thoughts. I enjoyed this book quite a bit and felt that it humanized Harry and his family. I’ve read so many toxic takes on this book, and it’s really sad. It was clear to me from reading this book that Harry was someone broken by trauma and then re-traumatized over and over again because of the media portrayals. He seems to have grown quite a bit over the course of his life, and I hate seeing people discount that growth or his struggles because he has privilege. Privileged or not, he’s dealt with some awful stuff, and ignoring his humanity because he didn’t have to struggle as much in some aspects of life is a pretty heartless thing I’ve seen so many do.

    1. YES! This is exactly what I was trying to get at. Just because someone is born with privilege doesn’t mean that have to just endure more hardship than a person with lesser privilege. Trauma is no friend to anyone, privilege or not. Someone with privilege has a better chance at getting help, but I think Harry was pretty clear in his memoir that he was denied that help. This is something that riles me up a lot when I see your average person scoff at someone with privilege and how the privileged person could’ve/should’ve done more; especially so when it’s not the point of a particular memoir, such as this one.

  7. Really loved the book gave a lot of perspective on who he was, what made him that way and the man he grew into…

    The first part I was shocked, No one in that family thought let me step up into the nurturing mother role or atleast take the kids to see a psychologist? Back to school n ask all the kids to not bother Harry that must have been crazy lonely…

    I’m thankful he traveled n learned, seemed due to him loving nature he actually learned from stories told by the zulu people in defeating british soldiers etc and the military showed there is a bigger world than royalty n Eton set n I’m thankful since he has grown to be a level headed and just good human being

    I wish him n his wife smiles n laughter they deserve after the way the royal family treated them n enjoyed the journey of the book, definitely worth the rollercoaster ride it took me in 9/10

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