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Chicago | Pamela Harriman: A Life of Power, Seduction, and Intrigue by Sonia Purnell

October 15 @ 11:00 am - 2:00 pm

Often written off as a mere courtesan and social climber, Pamela Harriman’s true historic legacy has been overshadowed by her glamorous social life and infamous erotic adventures. Much of what she did behind the scenes – on both sides of the Atlantic – remained invisible and secret. During WWII, Churchill’s beloved daughter-in-law became his “secret weapon,” strategically wining, dining, and seducing diplomats and generals to help win over Americans to the British cause against Hitler. After the war, she helped to transform Fiat heir, Gianni Agnelli, into Italy’s ‘uncrowned king’ on the international stage. After helping the Democratic party and an unknown Bill Clinton take the American presidency, she was appointed U.S. Ambassador to France. In this role she deployed her legendary powers to charm world leaders, while working on N.A.T.O. expansion and aiding efforts to bring peace to Bosnia—playing a huge role during the high-water mark of American global supremacy. For five decades Harriman blazed a trail through to the center of political power. There is practically no one in 20th-century politics, culture, and fashion whose lives she did not touch, including the Kennedys, Truman Capote, Aly Khan, Kay Graham, Ed Murrow, and Frank Sinatra. Harriman acknowledged her notoriety and admitted “I’d rather have had bad things written about me than be forgotten.” In this lecture, investigative journalist and award-winning biographer Sonia Purnell presents an electrifying re-examination of Harriman’s story using new research and previously unknown sources. Telling a tale full of sex and politics; set on yachts and in palaces; and always hallmarked by glamour and luxury, Purnell will unveil for the first time how Harriman left an indelible mark in the heart of world history and politics.

Sonia Purnell is a bestselling author and journalist known for her lively writing and meticulous research, with a global readership. Her work has been optioned by leading filmmakers and praised by diverse audiences. Her first book, “Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition,” a biography of Boris Johnson, was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011 and remains the definitive biography. Her second book, “First Lady” (UK) / “Clementine” (US), unveiled the crucial role of Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, influencing her portrayal in media such as Netflix’s “The Crown.” “A Woman of No Importance,” Purnell’s third book, tells the true story of WWII spy Virginia Hall and became a New York Times Bestseller, winning the Plutarch Prize for Best Biography in 2020. Her latest book, “Kingmaker: Pamela Harriman’s Astonishing Life of Power, Seduction & Intrigue,” to be published in September 2024, reexamines the life of Pamela Harriman, revealing her influence on 20th-century politics. Purnell’s work has received acclaim from numerous publications, including the Independent, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, and New York Times. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages, inspiring readers worldwide.

11:00-11:30 Coffee and Tea; Lecture 11:30-12:30 Followed by Luncheon
Tickets: TBA

Location: Private Womens Club; details will be provided upon ticket receipt


October 15
11:00 am - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Royal Oak
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