Customer Reviews: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch
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VINE VOICEon 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. Compare her to her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, a massively selfish man who believed the world was there to serve him and he was a Nazi sympathizer, to boot. If Queen Mary tried to teach him that duty came first, the advice fell on deaf ears. However, when Elizabeth returned from Kenya and was dressed in black for her dead father, Queen Mary curtsied then whispered "Lilibet, those skirts are much too short for mourning!"

We can say that Elizabeth was prepared to be the future Queen from her early childhood on and that she grew more confidently and efficiently into the role as she aged. With hindsight, it could be said that as Head of the Church of England she should not have refused to allow her sister Margaret to marry Peter Townsend, a divorcee with two children unless she gsve up her royal title and all the perks. Margaret didn't relish becoming plain Mrs. Townsend, living in a cottage. Margaret was more or less propelled into an alternative disastrous marriage with Anthony Armstrong-Jones. However, Tony who was not divorced was awarded a peerage so Margaret remained a royal highness.

With hindsight, too, Elizabeth agonized over public remarks made many years later by her son Charles who felt abandoned and bullied into remaining at Cheam snd Gordonstoun Schools, where his father Philip had gone. Charles especially loathed Gordonstoun where he was picked on and harrassed and begged to leave, his unhappy letters home cutting no ice with his parents. I am sure Queen Elizabeth feels now she made mistakes in regard to Charles and her sister Margaret, too. And it's likely, if they could turn back the clock, that she would have allowed Margaret to marry Townsend and to pay more heed to Charles' unhappiness.

Prince Philip is treated with considerable sympathy by author Bedell-Smith. As she points out, Philip's situation is quite reminiscent to that of Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. Publically both princes had to walk behind their wives but on the domestic front, in private, both Queens deferred to their husbands as head of the household. However, unlike Albert, in public at least, Philip often makes acerbic remarks, is often tactless and prefers calling a spade a spade.

During the early years of his marriage Philip was treated disrespectfully by palace servants who probably considered him a parvenu. There is nobody snobbier than a royal servant. Rumors have been circulating for years that Philip had many affairs when he was traveling alone around the Commonwealth. He's had to put up with a lot but he is supportive of the Queen and is rather like a rottweiler, a guardian protecting her interests. He has earned the respect of the British people but not their love. However, even if he is not able to keep his mouth shut when he should, he has established literally hundreds of charities and causes all of which he oversees. And he now is admired by his staff who are very loyal.

We follow closely in the Queen's wake as she sails through the years. There will be many storms -her sister Margaret's alcoholism, the IRA assassination of Dickie Mountbatten, the indiscretions of daughter-in-law Fergie and the biggest tsunami of all, Diana. The Queen has weathered the tragedies. She is simply THERE. She has become a symbol of strength and inspiration. She has seen happiness in the apparent contentment of Charles and his wife, Camilla. She has rejoiced at the marriage of William and Catherine Middleton. She knows that her kingdom will be in good hands. You'll root for her as you read this fine biography and you'll probably say to yourself when you finish it, as I did:"God save the Queen!"
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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.) and speculates that she may have suffered from "borderline personality disorder." Of course, Smith claims that the Royal Family was in no way responsible for what happened to Diana and that they were never cold and uncaring. Yet while the Royal Family takes no responsibility for Diana's actions, they certainly made sure to not make the same mistakes when Prince William married Catherine Middleton recently. Also, Smith mentions the tears that were in Elizabeth's eyes when Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, was buried. Yet, she doesn't mention the hatred for Wallis that consumed the Queen Mum, and was thus transferred to Queen Elizabeth II. During the funeral service for the Duchess of Windsor, the name of the deceased was not once said aloud.

Published in time for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, I'm sure Elizabeth the Queen will be a best seller. But overall, I found this biography a disappointment.
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VINE VOICEon January 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is a lengthy read, so prepare yourself for some time to read it as it is intriguing, interesting and for me, personally, an eye-opener. I grew up in the Diana era, when she dominated the stage starting with her wedding to Prince Charles and I viewed Queen Elizabeth as this fuddly old monarch royal. After reading this book (of which I read an excerpt of in Vanity Fair and found it interesting enough to request this from the Amazon Vine newsletter), I find the Queen a much more interesting persona than what the news media would have you believe

This is a time-line biography starting from the time Elizabeth II was a little girl, but it really did not go into much detail of her earlier life since this is a portrayal of the queen itself and how she handled the transformation from being a young princess happily married to reigning a commonwealth of many countries. While the biography is not intimately personal as this is a book written with comments and conversations derived from people close to her, it is still interesting enough to read. It does give an insight to what the Queen might be thinking or doing while accomplishing her duties and this woman does take her duties seriously.

It is a bit of a harder read as it didn't always flow so smoothly in the narrative, and the details of how people are related to her as relatives, friends or friends of her children, can bog this reading down considerably. (After awhile, I found myself skimming the pages to get to something more interesting such as politics or events that were happening world-wide.) It is still an interesting read of a woman who continues to be an world-wide influence on today's events. I personally love reading historical books and this one is a good read, though not as well-written as I had hoped it to be. Still, it is an interesting read and definitely changed my perceptions of who this queen really is.

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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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 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. Her motives are described as pure and honest. Even the infamous photo of her shaking hands with Charles when he was 3, is left out and instead we are told she gave him a peck on the head. Motherly love must wait. Even Prince Philip is dealt with in a most sympathetic manner - describing him holding John Jr's hand at the dedication of the memorial to JFK at Runnymede.

There are some amazing details about the Queen in these pages. Her complete and thorough interest in her horses, even attending their breeding sessions. Her "annus horrendous" is examined as well as Charles and Camilla's affair, Diana's death and 9/11. Although there is almost nothing given at all of her opinion of British troops fighting alongside their American allies in the Middle East.

This is a 537 page biography that, especially if you have a fascination with England's royals, reads like a novel. No matter what you have already read this book will give you a clearer and more personal perspective on the Queen and her family.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth the Queen comes just as Elizabeth II celebrates her 60th year on the throne. Some reviewers have described the book as an authorized unauthorized biography, likely because Bedell Smith writes with sympathy and admiration for the Queen's dedication and the sacrifices that the Queen has made and makes on a daily basis.

I hadn't read any of biographies of the royal family and have had a mild fascination with Princess Diana (like most of the world). I'd enjoyed the movie The Queen with Helen Mirren. I'd requested Elizabeth the Queen through the Amazon Vine program with a general curiosity of the second longest reigning monarch and was delightfully surprised to learn the details of her life as queen. The book begins with ten-year old Elizabeth and her sister discuss the abdication by King Edward VIII and their father's ascension to the throne. Elizabeth suddenly becomes next in line to the throne and she is prepared accordingly. Drastic changes are made to her education, training, and treatment - she, her family, and those around her take care to prepare her for her role. In contrast, her father Prince Albert ("Bertie") had not been raised as the heir and his sudden ascension when King Edward VIII abdicated to be with Wallace Simpson had not only created a constitutional crisis but had imposed an incredible burden for which he -- at least from Hollywood's depictions -- had not felt well prepared. But as Prince Albert took on the role of George VI, history (and again, the movies) reveal that he met unexpected and unparalleled challenges with great grace, dedication and success -- he steered England through World War II and the challenges afterward. The royal family made sure that Elizabeth was prepared, insofar as one can be, for her future role as monarch. "I have a feeling that in the end probably that training is the answer to a great many things. You can do a lot if you are properly trained, and I hope I have been." said the Queen on the eve of her 40th year. But as the book reveals, preparation is not so much intellectual education but also a deeper devotion to, understanding of, and commitment to the responsibilities, obligations, and limitations of her position as queen. Her role as constitutional monarch - and the restrictions that are imposed on her - and her larger role as diplomat, role model, and queen that brings together the Commonwealth nations and her subjects the world over.

I was fascinated by the conversations, anecdotes, and details that Sally Bedell Smith revealed. Having only known Queen Elizabeth as the older monarch, mother of the rather old Prince Charles and presumably an unsympathetic mother-in-law to the lively Princess Diana, it was lovely to read about her early years, of her own youth, glowing beauty, the personal and diplomatic triumphs of the young queen. Sally Bedell Smith gives us a fuller story of Queen Elizabeth II with careful research and meticulous details. We learn of her love affair and marriage to Prince Philip as well as the ways in which she has sought to give him greater importance. The relationship between Elizabeth II and Prince Philip is similar in some ways to that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Prince Consort - except that Prince Albert was given a greater role in governmental affairs. However, Bedell Smith recounts the romance in much the same way: the fabulously wealthy heir presumptive is attracted to a handsome, well educated, young man of similarly royal birth. Prince Philip is a descendant of Queen Victoria and a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth which Prince Albert was first cousin to Queen Victoria. Both queens sought to give their husbands primacy in their family life and to give them a larger role and importance in public life. Sally Bedell Smith devotes considerable time on Prince Philip, his background, his interests, his adjustment to his role as Prince, his treatment of their children, his wisecracking ways that are supposedly done to provide comic relief and ease tension. Bedell Smith makes Prince Philip out to be a sympathetic character. I'll admit though that while she makes him a more sympathetic character, there are things that stick out in her description of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth that make one curious as to what other people would say about incidents and these royal personages. For instance, Bedell Smith writes "Always vigilant about his own weight, he helped his wife return to trim form by encouraging her to give up potatoes, wine and sweets."

Most of the anecdotes are enlightening and I came away with great respect and affection for Queen Elizabeth II. Her dedication to her work -- she dedicates hours each day to official correspondence and briefings, taking time out only on Easter and Christmas, her strict adherence to her role under the constitution, and the physical demands of her position are all revelations and evoke my greatest admiration. I very much enjoyed reading Elizabeth the Queen and highly recommend it for those with an interest in modern history. Queen Elizabeth II is much more than a royal figure, she is one of the most important leaders of the last century.
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VINE VOICEon January 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For the record, I'm an avid admirer of Elizabeth II (for that matter, I'm also an admirer of her late father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandmother). I braved, during one of the dog days of the summer of 2010, many hours of intense heat and sun to catch a glimpse of her in lower Manhattan during her last visit to the US and was not only rewarded with a glimpse of Her Majesty, smiling and waving through the window of a truly bizarre security vehicle, but was also able to chat for a moment with her head of security, an extremely pleasant Welshman. The events of that afternoon were, and will remain, a cherished memory.

I very much enjoy English history and over the last 35 or so years, have read much on the subject, including biographies of the Royal Family, quite a few of them covering the Windsors in general and The Queen in particular. So saying, despite my resolve to not slog my way through uncorrected proofs (which, with the exception of Vine, is something I get paid to do), I chose Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth The Queen both for its subject matter and the lovely portrait of its subject that graces the cover. Really, how bad could it be? And maybe, just maybe, I'd get a release copy and not a proof. *sigh*

No one can really be blamed for the fact that only a slice of that cover art appears on this proof, and on its spine, to boot. The covers consist of logrolling by other authors, extolling the virtues of authorship that awaited me and to be fair, a number of the photographs that were actually included (photocopies, to be precise, and some were missing) were ones I'd never seen. So saying, I dug in.

It's appropriate that Mrs. Smith should acknowledge Robert Lacey because she often appropriates blocks of his text verbatim for use in this work. (That text is better read in its original context. In order to have some understanding of Elizabeth II's work, one needs to be familiar with her antecedents and their history and for that, Mr. Lacey's works are indispensable; he's also a much better writer than Mrs. Smith.) Text from the work of other biographers appear as well. In all fairness, given the subject matter, it's entirely possible that everyone is given access to identical data, but still, there was something afoot that raised my hackles.

Elizabeth the Queen contains some really sloppy errors of fact. Since citing them, at first, struck me as nasty, I called the publisher's number provided on the proof's cover and left a message to contact me to discuss the errors. That was several weeks ago and given that I've received no return call, the gloves are off.

I believe the first error I noticed involved an incident that was also described by Robert Lacey. Mrs. Smith would have us believe that Princess Elizabeth's father, while Duke of York, exhorted the Princesses' tutor, Marion Crawford, to teach the girls "to write a decent hand." The only problem is that, according to Mr. Lacey, it was George V, not the Duke, who made the request. Now, it's entirely possible that Mr. Lacey got it wrong but my money's on Mrs. Smith because the best is yet to come.

Given that "the Troubles" occurred during Elizabeth II's reign, the subject of Northern Ireland comes up with some frequency. However, Mrs. Smith makes reference to "the north (also to be known as Ulster)" when the fact of the matter is that while Ulster is indeed in the north, three of its counties chose to remain in Eire i.e., not all of Ulster is Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In the terminology of formal logic, the relationship isn't symmetric: all of Northern Ireland is contained in Ulster but not all of Ulster is Northern Ireland. Mrs. Smith then proceeds to compound this error a number of times throughout the text ("...force a unification of Ulster and the Republic of Ireland" is one of my personal favorites). Granted, Northern Ireland is referred to by many in the UK as Ulster, but Mrs. Smith is American (she seems to forget this in her fatuousness) and works of non-fiction should be accurate. No effort is made to explain the distinction (my guess is because the author is clueless but I could be wrong).

Other things crop up as well. Elizabeth II is an avid equestrienne, hence it's only natural that the subject of horses would be covered (which it is in virtually every biography I've read). Mrs. Smith, however, goes a step further.
In her introduction, the author mentions a meeting with The Queen that involved Mrs. Smith's husband. It's evident that he is a racing fan and on that basis, Mrs. Smith later treats us to an account of the breeding of race horses that is both graphic (complete with identification and functions of respective genitalia) and gratuitous--truly, something along the lines of "horse breeding can be a very dangerous undertaking" would have sufficed. My impression was that Mrs. Smith was showing off, which made the fact that she doesn't know the difference between jodhpurs (long pants worn with ankle-high boots) and breeches (worn with knee boots) really hilarious. She makes this silly mistake no fewer than three times, including in reference to The Queen's attire while riding with Ronald Reagan. (I checked the photographs to be sure. Breeches. Him, too.)

At one point, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, is referred to as "mama," despite the fact that it's my understanding that she was always "Mummy" to her daughters. Mrs. Smith would have us believe that Queen Elizabeth was "formerly a queen" but in fact, she was ALWAYS a queen--as consort and then as dowager--from the time of George VI's accession until her death, and always an HM; what she wasn't, ever, was sovereign. And there was never any danger of her being referred to as "Dowager Queen," even though that's what she became upon her husband's death. I have yet to read of any widowed British consort ever having been referred to formally as "Dowager Queen So-and-so" (Mary, Elizabeth II's grandmother, and Alexandra come immediately to mind).

Being a huge fan of and annual attendant at their sublime post-Epiphany service, I was really annoyed to read that the venerable Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue had somehow metamorphosed, courtesy of Mrs. Smith, to "St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue." How hard is it to find a Web site for the purpose of getting something right? Good grief.

With all this, Elizabeth The Queen isn't entirely without merit. It reads fast and I learned at least one fact of which I'd been previously unaware: Edward VIII was allowed to abdicate only because no coronation had taken place and he hadn't been anointed. For that reason alone, I'm glad to have read this book. But even though Mrs. Smith is a competent author (although I sometimes found her choices of tense puzzling), so profound is her Anglophilia that Elizabeth The Queen struck this reviewer as more hagiography than biography, which is rather annoying and radiates to other members of the Royal Family as well; her attitude towards the Prince of Wales, for example, is downright sycophantic. (A very telling indication is to be found when one of The Queen's ladies-in-waiting is referred to as "an American SUBJECT." Talk about Freudian slips!) In addition, scratching the surface discloses that Mrs. Smith has written a biography of the late Princess of Wales in which she not only diagnoses her subject as having suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder but lists at least one friend of Diana's as a source who publicly claims--by way of an Amazon review, no less--that not only was she never interviewed but that other quoted sources weren't either. Practicing psychiatry without a license (or even training) and fabricating sources isn't good journalism and frankly, I had to wonder just how much of Elizabeth The Queen was true. (Could this be why so much of the quoted material in this work occurred during the course of "confidential interview[s]?" If any of this is actually true, The Queen needs to reassess her friends because someone can't resist the urge to blab.) In addition, one can discern the author's political leanings; it seems that she's unable (unlike, say, Robert Lacey) to keep from injecting herself into her subject's story.

Mrs. Smith's one success is making clear just how hard British monarchs and their consorts are expected to work, and for that reason alone Elizabeth The Queen is worth reading. The Monarch lives in a fishbowl, must always mind his/her P's and Q's and maintain the appearance of impartiality, can never retire, and virtually never gets a break from the "red boxes," even while on tour or vacation or even giving birth--all in the name of duty and service to his/her subjects, a burden that's especially heavy to bear for a female monarch with a family. Queen Elizabeth made public appearances well into her 90s and it's only recently that the Duke of Edinburgh, at 90, has resolved to lighten his workload. The Queen was 84 years old when I saw her and was just finishing up a grueling day that included addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations. And the worst part is, they don't have a choice.

Bottom line, proceed with caution. This isn't one I'd actually spend money on but if you're interested in Elizabeth II and are prepared to take some of Mrs. Smith's assertions with a grain of salt, it's an interesting and not very demanding read. There are, however, better (albeit less current) options to be had.

Let the negs begin!

UPDATE (4/9/12): I happened to run across a copy at a local bookstore and so was finally able to peruse the photos, which were many and excellent; most were new to me and quite a few were in color. And in fact, there is indeed a photograph of The Queen in jodhpurs...however, it's dated 1965 and includes only her and her mount. I also found it amusing that, unless I missed others, there were only two photographs that included Diana, one of which was truly unflattering and neither of which were from the wedding. I got a real chuckle out of that.
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VINE VOICEon January 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I must say I have never been a fan of the Royal family. Yet, this portrait of the Queen includes not just her physical personification of duty, but an interesting glimpse into the actual woman. Her love of horses and dogs was one tiny thing about her personality that I found charming. Also her ability to make others comfortable in the event they stepped over the line with the endless rules about what is said in her presence was to be admired. But the devotion to the duty she has worn like an uncomfortable coat for all these years must be viewed with sympathy. When her sister Margaret learned of her Uncle's abdication and says to Elizabeth, "Does that mean you will have to be the next Queen?" Elizabeth replies, "Yes, someday." Margaret then said, "Poor you." That says it all. I am afraid the author has a bad case of being Royal struck and this is definately a cloyingly worshipful offering even to the point of the expected Diana bashing. I didn't care for that, but overall it is interesting enough for you to keep turning the page.
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on January 29, 2012
If you are not familiar with the life of Queen Elizabeth, you will find this book interesting. If, however, you have knowledge of her life and works, this book breaks no new ground. It skims over negative aspects of the royal family but goes into detail relating negative behavior toward the royal family. For example, the wild and rebellious behavior of a young Princess Margaret, is covered in two paragraphs, particularly the affair with Captain Townsend. Margaret's resulting bad behavior is not mentioned and the whole episode ignored. Princess Diana's bad behavior, however, is given in excruciating detail, with the royal family, of course, the injuried party shown in sympathic light. Sarah Ferguson is also given the bad girl treatment, while very little is said about Charles, Anne, Andrew or Edward's bad behavior and 'mistakes'. The Duke of Windsor is barely mentioned and there is not one hint of how his abdication impacted Elizabeth, her father and family. Such a signicant event, completely ignored. Even Camilla is treated well, now that she's royal. I was disappointed in the uneven story-telling. As a result, I found the book quite dull and the writing itself is so boring I could barely finish the book. I had read that this is an authorized 'unauthorized' biography and this must be true given how the story is told. I admire Queen Elizabeth, her duty, dignity and the way she has carried her burden of duties. This book is but a highlight of the positive aspects of her reign. I hope I can return this book and recoop some of my money.
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on July 22, 2015
I have read many biographies of the Queen and I was really looking forward to this one. At first I appreciated the extensive research and good writing. After a while, I realized it was a PR spin piece painting the Queen and certain approved members of her family as humble, tenderhearted people whom barely ever put a foot wrong. For example, Prince Phillip’s racist gaffs are chalked up to his eccentricity and woeful Princess Margaret is a tragic figure for whom life never gave her a fair shake, despite her vast privilege and her own poor life choices. Diana, Princess of Wales, however, is described as being unstable and manipulative and just plain crazy. Sarah Ferguson is also treated as disloyal, promiscuous and careless. Indeed, the promiscuity of Prince Charles, Princess Anne and others in the family are barely touched on, but the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York are bad, bad girls for doing the very same thing. They were treated very coldly, by the royal family, and given little support, yet they take most, if not all, of the blame for their respective failed marriages. The Queen’s aloof silence and lack of empathy, following Diana’s death are blithely written off as a natural reaction. When the week leading up to Diana’s funeral is covered, the author implies that the media and Tony Blair stirred it all up and the British people would not have been nearly as upset otherwise. British taxpayers are further denigrated as miserly for not wanting to pay for the royal yacht and the restoration of the burned out state rooms of Windsor Castle in a time of economic recession. I don’t buy it and the author insults the British people by her implications. The author’s right-wing political leanings are blatantly apparent with her over-the-top, gushing portrayals of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. Presidents Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. Meanwhile Tony Blair and Barrack Obama are given only a few sentences each and, by implication, apparently are not as well liked by the Queen (or the author for that matter). This could have been a great book, and yes it was a best seller, but in my opinion it is too ham-fisted in its biases. I’m not sure that I would trust another book by this author as I think it would not be balanced in her approach to history.
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on June 18, 2012
I had hoped to read an in depth work about a person in a very interesting social/political/historical role. I had no knowledge of Smith as a writer but really wanted this to be a real portrait of a woman who's had a front row seat to history for the last sixty years. I didn't even get halfway through. Smith's viewpoint is extremely sympathetic to the Queen, therefore not remotely objective, her quotes and "examples" of her points are vapid, and her writing style is reminiscent of a 5th grader's social studies report.

There are those that will enjoy this book, but I prefer one more of substance and real humanity. I welcome recommendations of other books on the royal family, that are well written and neither whitewashes or hatchet jobs.
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