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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2002
Those who believe that the institution of monarchy is archaic and serves no purpose in the modern nation-state might find Mr. Shawcross's book somewhat suprising. Employing a succinct writing style, Mr. Shawcross provides his reader with a fascinating glimpse into the woman who, by accident of birth and unforseen dynastic events, has occupied the throne of Great Britain for half a century and who, in a quiet, unassuming way, has exacted considerable influence over the politics of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and world. This book shows the error in characterizing the Queen as a mere figurehead. Indeed, her role as confidant to prime ministers, the political knowledge and wisdom she has acquired through her lengthy tenure as sovereign, her ability to lead by example, and her steadfast willingness to dedicate her life to the service of her nation and the Commonwealth, combine to produce a portrait of a woman who is anything but a token head of state.
This book successfully argues the case for monarchy. Politicians, scandals, and events come and go, but there, above it all, remains the Queen.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2002
I found this book very interesting. I suggest all Britons campaigning for a republic read this book. It proves how influential and important the monarchy really is. It also proves what a brilliant woman Elizabeth II is and how she has come to embody the ideal constitutional monarch. What I found most interesting is her actual involvement in British (and many Commonwealth) affairs. Most Americans think of her as a mere figurehead who opens up hospitals here and there. This is far from the truth. As she is probably the most experienced diplomat in Britain, her sage counsel to Prime Ministers has proven invaluable. I urge those who pass off Elizabeth as dispensable to read this book and see how indispensable she really is.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2003
I read the book in one sitting, and while it covers all a book can given the enormity of its subject, I was left wanting more. Give the author credit for capturing a remarkable monarch.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
"There was something magical about this Queen's accession to the throne. She is the only woman known to have gone up a tree a Princess and come down a Queen." William Shawcross is referring to the circumstances of Her Majesty's accession which happened automatically once her father, King George VI died. She and her husband were in Kenya at the time with a small company of courtiers and servants on a trip on behalf of her government since her father was stricken with cancer. At a place called Treetops, which was a hut built within an enormous and old fig tree, the small royal entourage watched all sorts of wildlife gather at a salt lick, and it might have been when they were there that her father passed away. I loved this story told by Lieutenant Michael Parker, the Prince's Private Secretary: "Parker remembered ever after that as they sat there a large white eagle circled and swooped low above their heads. He was concerned that it might even dive on them. Later he realized that the appearance of the eagle had almost coincided with the moment when the King died."

Shawcross wrote this book to coincide with Her Majesty's golden jubilee. As a protestant American, I've always scoffed at all of the pageantry which the British subject themselves to. You must understand my religion is a no frills religion, my government, a no frills government. A monarchy of any kind seems outdated. What purpose could it possibly serve? And so too today, there are some in Great Britain who feel the same way. At one of my workplaces, a British couple would talk about such things like the Trooping of the Color as if it were some grand event not to be missed. What is the Trooping of the Color, I thought? Who cares, was another? I'm slowly beginning to understand why.

I wish I had read this book before Ben Pimlott's. It is infinitely easier to read, not as detailed. Shawcross's chapter on "Constitutional Monarch" is infinitely easier to comprehend than others I've tried to read. He has clearly written this book for the lay reader. I'm finally beginning to understand vaguely the workings of the British system of government. And most importantly why people love this particular monarch so much the world over and why the Brits are so fond of the monarchy. It somehow doesn't seem so strange to me anymore. Shawcross succeeds in revealing Queen Elizabeth II's character traits which account for her popularity the world over, even if she has some fierce critics in her own country. In her relationships with the many prime ministers who have come her way, she has never forced her opinions on anyone, always advising, and listening to their concerns about issues and crises. She is somehow above the fray, making it easy to accomodate a new prime minister, whether they be Conservative or Labour leaders. Many prominent statesmen make some of the same comments about her that she has had a stabilizing influence in so many crises around the world. Reading this book you'll understand too how Great Britain has evolved, changed so much since the beginning of her reign. Shawcross states in his closing chapter that "In all the turmoil and change, only the Queen has remained the same-a still small voice of calm at the vortex of the storm."

Her role of peacemaker stems from her character, her religious beliefs, her sense of duty, undoubtably instilled within her from her symbolic anointing with oil during her coronation ceremony in 1953. I loved Pimlott's detailed description of the ceremony. Shawcross also quotes Pimlott quite often. I share with you a quote I loved by Lord Tweedsmuir/John Buchan in his Pilgrim's Way about King George V, Queen Elizabeth II's grandfather: "He had one key of access to all hearts, his sincere love of his fellows....His simplicity, honesty, and warm human sympathy made themselves felt not only in the Empire but throughout the globe, so that millions who owed him no allegiance seemed to know and love him. He was a pillar of all that was stable and honourable and of good report in a distracted world."

There are many photos in this small book, my favorite being the Corgis descending the steps of a Royal airplane. They're so cute!
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 7, 2007
I am going to disagree with my fellow reviewers. This was a fluff piece about Elizabeth II by a well respected author. Shawcross is the author of Sideshow, a definitive book about the the American campaign in Cambodia. This was a hard hitting book that asked some tough questions about the Nixon's administration spread of the war into Cambodia. I would have thought Shawcross would have done the same with the British royal family. This was not the case.

Shawcross details the long reign of Elizabeth II. She has been a success not only in her relations with the British political process, but also Commonwealth relations. To say otherwise would be to go against her solid reputation. However, her sister Margaret, and her children Anne, Charles, and Andrew have had disasterous marriages, and have generally not been successful in representing the British royal family. Shawcross defends these members, but is not critical enough of them in his history of the British monarchy.

Shawcross shows his views about the monarchy in this writing. A more critical viewpoint perhaps would have shown the true nature of this British institution.
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