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The Queen Mother: The Official Biography Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 27, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With unrestricted access to the queen mother's personal papers, letters and diaries, this respectful, mostly uncritical biography by veteran journalist Shawcross (Sideshow) focuses on the courtship of Elizabeth (1900–2002), the daughter of a Scottish earl, by the future King George VI; the shocking abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson; and WWII, when Elizabeth's narrow escape from a bomb that hit Buckingham Palace helped her commiserate with her subjects during the blitz. Throughout, the queen mother is depicted as vivacious, charming, devout and dutiful, a dedicated protector of the arts if not an intellectual, and socially conservative. Shawcross repeatedly pulls his punches when it comes to revealing the workings of Elizabeth's heart, particularly her anguish over her nemesis, Wallis Simpson, and over her role in aborting her daughter Princess Margaret's romance with the married courtier Peter Townsend. The dearth of information on the queen mother's relationship with the late Princess Diana is particularly egregious. Although readers sense some of the parade of people who crossed her path, the royal engagements that filled her calendar and the pivotal historical events that shaped her life, Shawcross delivers a disappointingly bland celebration of the queen mother. 32 pages of photos. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Fascinating . . . Anglophiles and lovers of the crown will relish every morsel.”
USA Today 
“A totally absorbing and highly readable account of a remarkable life. . . . Shawcross’s book is genuinely revelatory.”
The Times (London)
Los Angeles Times
“Lively and elegantly written. . . . A rich portrait.”
The Economist
“Splendid. . . . An entertaining page-turner. . . . This masterly biography reveals a character whose charm was matched by courage, optimism, a strong sense of duty and a liking for fun. . . . A wonderful book, authoritative, frank and entertaining. It sets new standards for royal biography. . . . Anyone who finds royal biographies dull and dutiful is in for a surprise.”
The Daily Telegraph (London)

“A portrait of a remarkable life lived in step with a century of sweeping change.”
—Bloomberg News
“A colossal book about a colossal life, a spectacular journey across the entire 20th Century through the eyes of a thoughtful woman who took the hand of a shy royal understudy and was propelled through modern history.”
Daily Mail (London)
“A behind-the-scenes glimpse at the Royal Family. . . . Fascinating reading. . . . Shawcross has written a remarkable book.”
Tucson Citizen
“[Written] with unprecedented access to the private papers of the queen mother. . . . Her life is seen here as a mirror of the 20th century.”
New York Post “Required Reading”
“Shawcross has been given access to the Royal Archives and they have yielded a rich harvest. . . . [There is an] immense amount of new material here. . . . He is to be congratulated for selecting so many juicy tidbits.”
—A. N. Wilson, Daily Mail (London)
“Engaging. . . . Colorful. . . . Delightful as well as dignified.”
The Washington Times
“The correspondence in [The Queen Mother] is illuminating for both royal watchers and historians. . . . Divulges the Queen Mother’s opinions on topics ranging from feminism to homeopathy.”
—The Associated Press
“Impressively researched. . . . Shawcross avoids the traps [of] hagiography. . . . He succeeds in the difficult task of keeping his subject resolutely centre-stage in an elegant account.”
The Independent (London)
“Shawcross’s journalistic skills are evident in the innumerable dabs of pointilliste detail. . . . There are many unexpected vignettes. . . . He serves his subject well.”
Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Offers new and fascinating insights into the woman behind the pearls and pastel dresses.”
Mail on Sunday

From the Trade Paperback edition.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1096 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043042
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043040
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #577,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Its important to understand that William Shawcross has written an authorized or official biography of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. That means, as Shawcross states in his Introduction, that he was invited by Queen Elizabeth II to write her mother's life. Shawcross was given access to the Royal Archives and other private collections as well as tape recorded reminiscences made by the Queen Mother herself in her final years. He also interviewed hundreds of former servants and friends. In the Introduction, Shawcross emphasizes that he was given "absolute freedom to write as I wished." There is no doubt in my mind that The Queen and Royal Family did indeed allow him to write freely, knowing that he would craft a truthful but respectful chronicle. This is by way of saying that one should not read this work expecting sensational gossip or shocking "revelations". Others have written about such things, and no doubt many more will be written in coming years. This book portrays the Queen Mother much as she herself would wish to be portrayed.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born in August, 1900, the daughter of a wealthy family of Scots and English nobility. The ninth of ten children, she had a happy childhood unburdened by too much education, did nursing in World War I, and eventually made her debut with the prospect of making a brilliant match. She attracted one of the most brilliant names available, Prince Albert Duke of York, second son of King George V. After refusing him several times she agreed to marry him in 1923. She became an early royal superstar, beloved by the British for her charm and good humor.
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Format: Hardcover
How can a book so carefully compiled, so exhaustively footnoted, so completely researched be lacking? One expects an official biography to present a carefully shaded version of a life, the problem with TQM:TOB is that there is no shading at all. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon is never reflected against her peers, she exists in a bubble of her own life without much to contrast her with. While the resurfacing of the tennis courts is covered in exhaustive detail, the true information about who she was is detailed without being defined. Context is sketchy at best, with personalities left unrevealed. Just taking the section of her engagement to Prince Albert - he goes from interest in a married woman to a three year obsession with Elizabeth seemingly overnight. No other person in their lives had an opinion on this, it seems, except for glancing references to their parents being vexed over the push/pull dynamic between the two. A major suitor who would obviously be in competition is mentioned, but Elizabeth's view on him is silent. When she writes that she never thought she would say yes the reader has no idea to what she is referring. Did she think she would never marry at all? (She does state she thinks marriage is a sad day) That she would never marry Albert? What has changed her mind? Why did it need changing?

Biography, at it's strongest, lets you feel as though you have glimpsed into the heart of a person. An interested reader will study original papers (of course) and peruse many books on the same subject for a variety of perspectives on the historical figure in question. The frustrating thing about TQM:TOB is that is reads more like a compilation of source material than a portrait of a life. Elizabeth is capable. Elizabeth is sickly. Elizabeth is beloved. Elizabeth is bereaved.
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Format: Hardcover
I was very excited to see this book come out, because there hasn't been a recent book on the Queen Mother. Mr. Shawcross' work is indeed comprehensive, filled with detail and quite well researched. That said, however, it wasn't an enjoyable read. It was almost sterile in its portrayal of a remarkable woman who lived an entire century, almost like reading a pedantic Victorian diary. Yes, she was noble, yes, she had great dignity and preserved the integrity of the British monarchy, but that said, it was tiresome. She's portrayed as a noble saint (was there no one, save the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who disliked her?) who does no wrong. It's almost as if Mr. Shawcross, who was given extensive access to the palace resources, was afraid of offending her daughter (the present Queen). I've read references to the Queen Mother in other royal books, some not so flattering accounts, including her denials that she ever refused Bertie's proposal, and she comes across to me in this book as disingenuous and remote. I wasn't looking for any kind of scandal or even anything NEW about her, but the account was dry and in the end unsatisfying. I wanted to like this book, but it just seemed to me a waste of time when I was finished with it.
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Format: Hardcover
Eventhough with the majority of biographies you always know the ending, I still cried a little at William Shawcross's description of the Queen Mother's funeral in the final pages of his fascinating book on her life.

I am British and have lived in the US for 10 years. When the Queen Mother died in 2002 I was already here and paid little attention to what was going on back home at the time, only now realizing that both she and her younger daughter died within weeks of each other. What I had also never realized (given that she was already in her late 60's when I was born) was how much she did during the first and especially the second world wars to motivate, inspire and generally cheer up the people around her. Mr. Shawcross's description of the King and Queen during WWII gave me a far better understanding of that time than any lessons I took at school. This account also explained the relationship between Britain and the USA, the friendships between the King & Queen and the Roosevelts and the impetus that caused the USA to at last ally with Britain during WWII.

Also during this time, and until the King's death in 1952, the love story that was their marriage was a very rare thing to read about. His letters to her and hers to him, his wooing of her, her refusal of him and then the undying love, devotion and support that glued them together. This in itself gripped me and the description of the King's death again bought tears because you knew that she would not be able to cope without him. But she did (albeit with a deeply hidden sadness for her husband whom she remembered with a private mass every year on the anniversary of his death until she was too frail to go to chapel at the age of 101).
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