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Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 10, 2012

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A Letter from Sally Bedell Smith

As a five-year-old, I first glimpsed Queen Elizabeth II on the black and white screen in my parents’ mahogany television cabinet in 1953: a glamorous ingenue draped in gleaming robes and wearing a glittering crown during her coronation in Westminster Abbey. Two generations later, children watched her as a proud and bespectacled grandmother in the same majestic setting during the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

For sixty years, the Queen has been a constant presence as the longest serving head of state--iconic, distant, mysterious, dutiful--the only person about whom it can truly be said that all the world is a stage.

I first met her in 2007 at a garden party at the British ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. In a spirited conversation with my husband about the Kentucky Derby, she showed the animated gestures, sparkling blue eyes and flashing smile familiar to her friends but rare in public. I remembered what British artist Howard Morgan had told me after painting her portrait: “Her private side took me totally by surprise. She talks like an Italian! She waves her hands about.”

Nine months later I began my three year exploration of the Queen’s epic life. I was determined to make her accessible, to bring readers into her world and show that private side in an intimate and humanizing way. I also wanted to explain how she has been so successful in her unique role, and how she became “the sheet anchor in the middle for people to hang on to in times of turbulence,” in the words of David Airlie, her lifelong friend and former senior adviser.

As a woman I was intrigued by how she thrived in a man’s world, juggling her roles as dedicated professional as well as wife and mother. I also wanted to describe for the first time her close relationship with the United States--her eleven visits, five of them private, and her friendships with an array of fascinating Americans including all the presidents since Harry Truman--except Lyndon Johnson, who desperately tried to meet her.

There seemed to be a surprise around every corner: her physical courage when she was attacked by a wounded pheasant and charged by “dive bombing colts,” her compassion while mothering a teenaged cousin who had been nearly killed in a terrorist attack, her earthiness while crawling on her belly stalking deer, her joie de vivre while blowing bubbles at a friend’s birthday party, her fierce reaction to one of her top advisers in the days after the death of Diana, her tenderness toward Margaret Thatcher during the former prime minister’s 80th birthday party.

After two years of research and interviewing, it took another year to write the Queen’s story--to weave together the threads of a life of richness and variety with a great cast of characters both famous and little-known. I hope the result will enable readers to immerse themselves in her life--from the grouse moors of Scotland and kitchen tables of her friends to the state banquets and time-honored pageantry, where even in the middle of the solemn ritual of her coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury could sneak the 27-year-old Queen sips from a hidden flask of brandy for a pick-me-up.


“Fascinating….After 60 years on the throne, the monarch of Britain is better known for her poker face than for sly wit or easy charm. Yet in biographer Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth the Queen, Her Majesty sparkles with both. Via interviews with a legion of royal watchers, from horse trainers to lords and ladies, Smith teases out a woman both austere and animated, duty-bound yet undeniably authentic.”
“All the details are here for the reader to gather a comprehensive picture of a life so rarefied none of us could imagine it….[Smith] brings into focus the personal side of the ordinary-extraordinary balancing act that has been not only the queen’s trademark style but also the cause for continued appreciation.”
A respectful, engrossing, and perceptive portrayal.”
--Publishers Weekly

“She was so young, and the task was so enormous. Yet with grace and a determination to do her duty come what may—and so much has indeed come—Elizabeth II studiously made herself part of the fabric of global civilization in the most tumultuous of times. This is a terrific book about a fascinating figure.”
“A deeply researched, unvarnished, and therefore totally fascinating portrait of the transcendent icon of our age . . . Many authors have written about Elizabeth II, but none of them can match the literary style, wit, or insightful commentary of Sally Bedell Smith.”

“In an era plagued by flawed public figures, the world’s most famous woman has graced her realm impeccably for sixty years. She does so by being both mysterious and grounded. Sally Bedell Smith, through great reporting and insightful writing, provides a revealing look inside the palace to show how the Queen balances being both modern and traditional. Our celebrity-saturated world could learn a lot from her—and from this book.”
“This is a biography that avoids none of the difficult questions. Sally Bedell Smith asks them in a way no one else has dared.”

Elizabeth the Queen shows the woman as well as the monarch, and helps us to understand how Elizabeth has become a key figure in the history of our times.”

Elizabeth the Queen is an engaging, insightful, and altogether entertaining journey through the life and trials of the world’s most beloved monarch. By the end of Sally Bedell Smith’s winning book, I felt as if I had a new friend in Buckingham Palace.”

“A compelling, deeply human portrait of the remarkable Elizabeth II. This is a biography not to be missed.”

“Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen is a remarkable and sympathetic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. At the same time, it provides a fascinating picture of the major modern enterprise that monarchy has become. It is a deft and very readable book.”

“Sally Bedell Smith's book on Queen Elizabeth II is an enterprising, well-researched and intelligent work on a difficult subject, and deserves to be widely read.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (January 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400067898
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067893
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (248 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

169 of 184 people found the following review helpful By P. B. Sharp TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As author Bedell-Smith points out in this comprehensive, balanced biography Elizabeth II is the only person in the world for whom all the world is a stage. She learned at a very early age to exhibit a public persona which is controlled but not phony. She is dignified and friendly but not a friend. The line is drawn and neither she nor her subjects can step over it.

We follow Elizabeth from her long-ago childhood to the present, learning an immense amount of interesting stuff, such as the fact Queen Mary, Elizabeth's grandmother, wore her tiara to dinner even when she and her husband, George V, dined alone. Queen Mary walked on her stage as a rigid, unbending poker, advising her granddaughter that smiling in public is vulgar, and although she inculcated in her granddaughter a sense of presence, Elizabeth put her own spin on her own image, a much warmer one.

Elizabeth's mother. the Queen Mum Elizabeth, who was a star in her own right, exuded a graciousness in public that endeared her to all . Elizabeth publically is shyer, less ebullient than her Mum, but comfortable in her unique role.Her father, George VI, was tossed on the throne by the abdication of Edward VIII, and he was horrified. He was a sensitive man but insecure, and suffered a pronounced stutter that made public speeches for him a nightmare. But he had courage, he persevered and brought Britain through the agonies of World War II.

The young Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret Rose, lead idealized childhoods but duty was considered before all. The Princess had a role to play, and even though her ownchildhood friends had to bow and curtsy and call her "Ma'am," she was not arrogant.
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139 of 162 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I enjoy reading about Queen Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family, so I selected Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch. Although Smith claims that this is not an authorized biography, it didn't take long to realize that this is actually an authorized unauthorized biography. While I admire Queen Elizabeth II, she has shown some warts over the years. Yet, this book follows the strict party-line when writing about the queen and Smith downplays anything that could be critical.

Elizabeth the Queen provides just the shortest of backgrounds about Elizabeth's childhood. In fact, World War II has ended and Elizabeth turned 19 by page 23. Most of this book is dedicated to Elizabeth's time as queen, her marriage, her children, her mother and sister, her royal duties, her prime ministers, her travels, her estates, her horses and her dogs. There is much to admire about Elizabeth, who came to the throne as a young woman of 25. She always has a seriousness of purpose and devoted her life to her country and the Commonwealth. She has also adapted to change, although not something that Elizabeth found easy over the years. But red flags went up when I started to see all the friends, employees, and even cousins that were extensively quoted in Elizabeth the Queen. Smith even provides entries from Prince Charles' diaries. Such interviews would not be tolerated unless Elizabeth gave her approval for this biography. And because of this, this book is just a little too much of a white-wash.

Smith's harshest treatment is saved for Diana, Princess of Wales. The adjectives that she uses to describe Diana are anything but complimentary (unstable, conniving, secretive, manipulative, etc.
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89 of 104 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have always been fascinated by history and especially the House of Windsor. I lived in England, I subscribed to `Majesty', I joined my English friends in lining the streets for walkabouts and ceremonies...so it is a surprise to me to find a book on any of the Windsors that can say something new. The book, of course, does not have any direct personal interviews with the Queen; what it has are the insights of those around her and the records of how her time is spent. We learn of time blocked out for silent reading when she was a girl and later, even though she makes no comment on what she reads, we do learn something about her tastes.

It is especially interesting to be able to feel we know the monarch, through statements she makes to those around her, that are reported in these pages and to the author's credit most of them accredit the person and under what circumstance they were made. Her sense of humor is portrayed frequently, for example, when she tells how she met one of her security guards...during a hunt where a pheasant flew out of a hedge, knocked her over and left blood on her clothing. The detective fearing she had been shot threw himself on top of her and began mouth to mouth. She simply states, "I consider we got to know each other rather well".

There are touching insights to others in the family. Queen Mary saying she wished that just once, she had gotten to climb over a fence and King George leading conga lines through Windsor Castle. The Queen's early life through WWII is dealt with in the first 22 pages. The book is mostly from the time of her marriage to the wedding of William and Catherine and the planning of her Diamond jubilee in 2012.
This is a more sympathetic and affectionate portrait of the Queen than most. There is little criticism of her actions.
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