The Six: Book summary and reviews of The Six by Laura Thompson

The Six

The Lives of the Mitford Sisters

by Laura Thompson

The Six by Laura Thompson X
The Six by Laura Thompson
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About this book

Book Summary

An enthralling biography of six glamorous daughters of the British aristocracy in the early 20th century, whose lives take different directions, all rife with scandal, controversy, and tragedy.

The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire.

They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. Born into country-house privilege in the early years of the 20th century, they became prominent as "bright young things" in the high society of interwar London. Then, as the shadows crept over 1930s Europe, the stark - and very public - differences in their outlooks came to symbolize the political polarities of a dangerous decade.

The intertwined stories of their stylish and scandalous lives - recounted in masterly fashion by Laura Thompson - hold up a revelatory mirror to upper-class English life before and after WWII.

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Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Thompson has fallen under the spell of the breathtakingly beautiful (as she repeatedly insists), seductive Diana, but otherwise, her cleareyed view of the sisters' strengths and foibles makes this gossipy story a delight." - Kirkus

"Non-British readers may take longer to understand the sisters' lasting appeal, but Thompson successfully shows how this group of six captured the zeitgeist by being utterly committed and completely "shame-free." B&w photos." - Publishers Weekly

"I was enthralled and charmed by this group biography of all six Mitford sisters, which tells the intertwined stories of their stylish scandalous lives in a fresh and admirably concise way - and with a striking contemporary sensibility too." - Bookseller, Editor's Choice (UK)

"Engaging...Thompson's is an astute, highly readable and well assembled book, and she writes with particular intelligence about the sisters' self-mythologising and their ongoing hold on the public imagination." - The Observer

"Thompson is marvellous at mapping and explicating the webs or skeins of sibling rivalry [in this] gripping and appalling family saga." - The Times (UK)

"The first book to consider 'the whole six-pack' in the post-Mitford age. And what a remarkable story it is...Thompson retells the story with great style and illuminating detail." - The Independent

This information about The Six was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Nona F.

Fascinatng family portrait
Laura Thompson’s The Six was a compelling read, a fascinating portrait of a family interacting in the most extreme and radically different ways to the major political and economic movements of the first half of the 20th century. I had read several of Nancy Mitford’s novels some years ago, and was generally familiar with the varying paths each sibling followed; I couldn’t put down Thompson’s well-researched book as it fleshed out the individual lives of the Mitfords, parents and siblings. If the story of the Mitford daughters was presented as a novel, readers would say the characters and plot lines were not believable. I feel that linking the book to Downton Abbey is unfair because the ever-shifting loyalties, rivalries, deceits and betrayals among the sisters—as well as their so different political and cultural interests-- are so much more complex than fiction. Thompson at one point says they were the Kardashian sisters of their era, and I find that a more telling comparison. These were women with little or no family income, who were trained to do nothing except become a beautiful patrician ornament on some man’s mantelpiece, and yet five of them became financially secure, internationally respected writers or managers of major country estates. As for the book’s organization, I found the first chapter on the who/what/whys of what constitutes “Mitfordian” to be invaluable, and the chronology of the subsequent chapters presented no problem for me. Two thumbs enthusiastically up!

Bev C (PA)

The Six
The Six was not a simple read, but an attempt to properly biographize the Mitford family seems like a formidable task.

I need to add that this is my first Mitford biography; therefore I'm not able to make comparisons with other chronicles.

Laura Thompson found it necessary to present and investigate the Mitford family tree. I did appreciate seeing the actual diagram and referred back to it several times in my reading. I had to take notes and sometimes felt a yoyo effect as my reading time frame wound forward, then backward.
I did regain my sense of time but I frequently had to take a reading break, to reset my perspective. The cast of characters went on and on and the use of their own
private names and vocabulary left me once again with a list. Pamela is woman, Unity is Bobo or Boud, Jessica is Decca. You get my drift.

In an attempt to introduce a complex family narrative, I'd say:

Pamela, the rural Mitford, seemingly not politically involved, although she married a Fascist sympathizer.

Nancy, a best selling author

Jessica, the Communist

Diana, a Fascist politician's wife

Unity, obsessed with Hitler, shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany

Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire.

Their lives were unorthodox, reckless, radical, experimental.

Their sisterly relationships often came through to me as restless and so chameleon that I couldn't remember who felt what toward whom.

The front cover of my advance reading copy (ARC) depicts stylish sisters. Your copy will have an additional 16 pages of black and white photographs.
Laura Thompson refers to the Mitfords as "a variant strain of the Downton Abbey Syndrome." She also notes "The Mitfords were remarkably good at classless
displays of class." There are humorous elements to be found.

In reading The Six, you'll get more than enough details on Mitford lives and the times. Relationships and events are explained in detail.

Reviewing the note section was definitely helpful in my reading experience.
My ARC had 367 pages that I read, but the amount of historical information was almost overwhelming to me.

Do give this Mitford saga a chance. What was almost overwhelming to me might be just right for you.

3.5 ?

Marlene Bilsky

Wanted: A Good Editor
I had really looked forward to reading this biography, as it is a history of an entire family rather than a single individual. The fact that six sisters and one brother pursued such vastly different paths in life should have made this a fascinating read. However, the introductory chapter: The Mitford Phenomenon, was confusing and boring and greatly in need of editing. I had to push myself to read beyond the introductory part before being even mildly interested.

Laura Thompson took a phenomenal subject and failed to illuminate it as it deserves. Nevertheless, she interested me enough to read more about each of the sisters.

Patricia W. (Richmond, VA)

The Saga of the Mitford Sisters
Having been intrigued by the Mitford sisters for a long time, and having already read a great deal about them, I was anxious to read this new book. It didn't contain a great deal of new information. I didn't care for the organization of the book plus a great deal of emphasis was given to Nancy whose books were referenced quite a lot (perhaps too much). However, Anglophiles who know little about the family will likely enjoy this read.

Chris (CA)

Intriguing sisters
This book was my introduction to the Mitford sisters. While I definitely enjoyed the history of the time period and location, the story jumped around too much. It would have been easier for me to follow in a more chronological presentation. There were so many names, nicknames, and families to sort out. The family tree was a big help, and I referred to it many times while reading. The author has clearly done exhaustive research on this family. There is a lot of information, society names, and places which sometimes makes the story difficult to follow. That said, I did learn a lot about this fascinating family. Maybe this would be a better book for readers who already know all about these intriguing sisters.

Linda S. (Arlington Heights, IL)

The Googled Book
I decided to read this book because I knew hardly anything about the Mitford sisters. It looked intriguing. I must admit, however, I found this book that should have been a scandalous, fun, adventure about real women ultimately boring, difficult to follow, and poorly organized. There was too much information presented at once, making each individual's story more of a chore to follow rather than something to be enjoyed. Though I am certain Thompson's knowledge about the Mitford sisters is extensive, the presentation of this book made her expertise unclear and unsatisfactory.

...6 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Laura Thompson

Laura Thompson was educated at Simmons College; at Boston University in Paris, where she received a master's degree in International Relations; and at INSEAD. She is an active member of the Foreign Press Association and also a member of the board of the Pen and Brush in New York. She has lived in the United States and Europe and has travelled worldwide.

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