When Succession first aired in 2018, some critics wondered whether we really needed a fictional portrayal of an immeasurably wealthy, mostly male and irredeemably spoilt family dynasty fighting over their father’s empire, when there were so many real-life examples to observe instead. Turns out, what we need and what we want are two very different things. It was the runaway TV hit of the year.

second series later, here we are, heads spinning after Logan’s deliciously unexpected ‘blood sacrifice’ was finally revealed on Sunday night leaving so many questions to stew over while we wait for season three. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get your fix on dysfunctional families, stinking wealth, hypocrisy, revenge, sex and power. Here is a selection of books – from history to fiction, biography to Shakespeare – to keep you sated while you wait. 

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (1922)

Prim widows, anvil-faced patriarchs, duplicitous daughters and purse-lipped men of property are the flavour of John Galsworthy’s classic chronicle of a nouveau-riche family wallowing in rivalries, resentments and magnificent mansions, and struggling to adapt as the sun sets on the British Empire. In other words: it’s Succession in top hats and tiaras.

Chock-full of hypocrisy and money, adultery and revenge, sex and power, the sprawling drama (spread across three books) not only helped win its author a Nobel prize but spawned a silver-serving terrine of TV and radio adaptations in its wake.

In short, this oak-panelled genius of a tale has it all, from clandestine moments of morally louche, Victorian sex to carriage-fulls of tightly-bodiced busy-bodies passing by manor houses ‘for tea’ but really intent on causing mischief with tittle-tattle. A timeless treat for anyone with even a passing interest in the fathomlessly rich, and what happens when wealth – steaming, stinking piles of wealth – worms its way into a family, and then eats its way back out.

King Lear by William Shakespeare (1606)

Swap the media empire for a monarchy, the helicopters for horses, and the swearing for starry-eyed soliloquies and Succession really does start to look a lot like King Lear. Brian Cox even looks a lot like King Lear - or at least he did that time he played him at the National Theatre.

Lear needs no introduction – it’s arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, about an ageing and irascible patriarch bent on dividing not only his kingdom but his brood, one against the other. Watching it, you may also have noticed: Succession is peppered with nods to the Bard.

Logan’s children, like Lear’s, are a lot of shades of awful, each with the kind of daddy issues only a life of extreme wealth and privilege can afford. All both Logan and Lear demand from their lickspittle kids is flattery and obedience.

The result in both stories is a complex interplay of Machiavellian scheming, simple hurt feelings, sibling cruelty and emotional inadequacy. Needless to say, King Lear is a work of mesmerising depth and dexterity and perfect in its prescience for what goes down when filthy rich families feud.

American Royals by Katharine McGee (2019)

What if George Washington had become America’s first king, instead of just a president? What if his royal lineage had weaved down through two and a half centuries to the present day? What would life be like now for an American royal family? That’s the premise of McGee’s deliciously soapy saga about hereditary duty and royal rivalry set in the most glorious royal court in the world (sing it: America!).

But, as the Roys know all too well, here’s the thing about dynastic hierarchies: for every William there’s a Harry; for every heir, there’s a spare. And that’s a problem for Princess Beatrice Georgina Fredericka Louise of the House of Washington and her family. Her biggest problem, aside from having to find a husband she actually likes, comes in the form of her off-the-rails twin siblings Samantha and Jefferson. No one cares about them, except when they break the rules. Then there’s Jefferson’s scheming and unscrupulous ex Daphne who’s hellbent on marrying royalty.

Cue a rollicking ride of palace intrigue, royal shenanigans, and even a smidgen of sex in this New York Times bestseller to satisfy anyone who loves a hot slice of gossip.

The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch by Michael Wolff (2008)

‘I don’t watch Succession … why would I?’ That’s what James Murdoch, Rupert’s youngest son, told the New Yorker in January. And it’s a fair question: he is, after all, thought to have inspired Jeremy Strong’s character, Kendall Roy, in the show.

Though Jesse Armstrong has denied basing Succession on any single dynasty, the comparisons with the Murdochs scrape the bone like fingernails on a blackboard. And if you want to get to know them inside out, The Man Who Owns the News is where you must start. Much has changed since Wolff penned the book in 2008 (not least the fact that James has since left his father’s empire), but nevertheless it is a window into the very real world in which Armstrong clearly sought wadding for his script.

Spiced with anecdotes and iced with wit, it is a multi-layered profile of the most powerful media goliath on Earth. But the cherry on top comes from Wolff’s interviews with Murdoch’s four elder children (which Murdoch apparently insisted on) and his third wife, Wendy Deng. There’s just too much to go into in any depth here, but as one reviewer put it: ‘Amid the gossip and swordplay, (Wolff) forces out a genuine scoop … as he concentrates on a far-from-united family.’

Dynasties: Fortune and Misfortune in the World's Great Family Businesses by David Landes (2008)

The Rothschilds, Fords, Rockefellers, Guggenheims and Morgans – they have shaped the world as we know it, enjoyed unfathomable wealth and lived as colourful lives as any human could hope to live. But who really are these people who can spend more on wine in one sitting than you would on a deposit for a house?

Landes, with exquisite attention to detail, profiles thirteen different dynasties, revealing what lay behind their successes-and how extravagance, bad behaviour, and worse decisions brought some of them to their knees.

He is a Harvard professor of economics, so there’s a healthy wedge of business detail, but only as context for the many family adventures and feuds that make his stories sparkle. Far from just strong heads and simple plans, his stories reveal how authority, love, trust, envy, marriage, adoption and succession are what really determines the growth and direction of a family-run mega-business. These are the real stories of dynastic disharmony.

Trump and Me by Mark Singer (2016)

So many books have been written about Donald Trump that it can be hard to know where to start, nowadays (not least the ones by the man himself). But, oof, Trump and Me is a doozy. It is a lean read (only about 100 pages). But what it lacks in length it makes up for in hilarity. Essentially an extended version of a profile Singer wrote for the New Yorker in 1997, few other biographies of any length provide a clearer insight into the mind of the self-publicity savant with the peach pompadour who would, two decades later, would become the most powerful person in the known world.

It’s no exaggeration to say Singer proves his grand-mastery in the craft of digging beneath the skin of a subject to reveal the tick-tock of a mind motivated exclusively by the pursuit of power. The result is a savagely entertaining journalist’s account of the ordeal of spending time with Donald Trump. Take, to pluck one of his innumerable anecdotes at random, the moment Singer asks what Trump's idea of perfect company is – well, comes the reply, ‘a total piece of ass’. Enough said, just read the book. It’s fabulous.

Charles: The Misunderstood Prince by Sally Bedell Smith (2017)

Certainly, Prince Charles reckons he’s misunderstood. And he's not alone; enough writers have tried to plumb his depths over the years. A lonely boy. An ageing prince. Widowed dad. Eco warrior. Government botherer. ‘Black-spider’ writer. Late-night phone whisperer (wince!).

Bedell Smith paints a warm, likeable portrait of the prince, taking us on a long and winding journey from the unhugged boy playing with lipsticks at the end of his grandmother’s bed to his relationships with a ‘detached’ mother and a ‘bullying’ father, and then – to crown it all, so to speak – to being pushed into a car-crash marriage to Diana Spencer to the actual car crash that so tragically ended her life and shaped his (spoiler warning to Diana lovers: she does not come off well in this) to Camilla and all the rest.

And it doesn’t miss the elephant in the room: Charles is 70 and still waiting to fulfill his destiny. Does the king-in-waiting crave the crown, as some suggest? Or does he, as others hold, dread the day he must finally give up the lifestyle he has gradually and painfully carved to once again fulfil a reluctant duty? 

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