Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review - Elizabeth the Queen, Sally Bedell Smith

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch


Sally Bedell Smith

Category: Biography

Synopsis: Smith recounts Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-plus year reign as the Queen of England.

Date finished: 23 October 2013

Rating: ****½

Words cannot describe how much I enjoyed this read. Which makes writing a critique very difficult. This could have been a lot of things: boring, overly-dishy, snooty. It was none of those things. Instead, it was a flawlessly-told, exhaustive account of Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign as the Queen of England and the Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth (adoringly called Lilibet by her family) took the throne in 1952 when her father, King George VI, died of coronary thrombosis. She was 25. She was married to Prince Philip and had two small children, Charles and Anne. She had been groomed from a very young age to be ready to reign, and she did (is doing) so impartially and prudently for six decades. Through the years she led her nation through several wars; worked with 12 Prime Ministers, including Winston Churchill; faced critics, the less-than-generous press, and adoring commoners; tirelessly “spread the carpet of happiness” to all of her realms; and dealt with numerous family scandals and tragedies. She did it all with a steely strength. Sensitive to the fact that being married to the sovereign could be emasculating, she led the nation while she made it clear that Philip led at home. She was often criticized for being old-fashioned, unsympathetic, and out-of-touch, and in her later years, for the good of the nation, she modernized her image and the image of the monarchy. She was passionate about horses, loved her incorrigible Corgis, and delighted in spending time in her Scottish estate, Balmoral, and her English estate, Sandringham.

This book, although not authorized (no biography will be authorized until the Queen’s death), is a generous view of the Queen. However, it does not back away from presenting unpopular press (especially when it comes to family scandals) and other criticisms such as how absent she was from her young children’s lives.

The book was written in a breezy, comprehensive style. It never spent too long on any one topic, making the 550 pages fly by. Smith never gets tabloid-y nor gushes too much. It’s a rather even-handed account of the Queen’s reign.

The only thing keeping this book from being a five-star is Smith’s obvious bias against Princess Diana. After three hundred pages of impartial and tidy prose about the Queen, you can feel a black curtain falling as she cues the Princess. The tone in every sentence covering Diana’s life in the Royal family is dripping with condescension, even hatred. It was so blatant it was almost comical. I’ve long believed that Diana played the press to her advantage leaving Buckingham Palace to quietly deal with the aftermath. I’ve never doubted that Diana was complicit in the demise of her marriage to Prince Charles. I never doubted that they both cheated and that she was perhaps emotionally unbalanced. But the vitriol with which Smith tears apart Diana was breathtaking. I was advised of anti-Di sentiment before reading the book, but I had no idea. This treatment made me a touch leery of what else she might be skewing due to personal prejudice.

I’ve been a fan of the film The Queen since its 2006 release. In the movie, the Queen is torn between the crown’s tradition and her citizenry’s cries for modernization. It’s a touching and thought-provoking portrayal of the Queen and the decisions that will carry the monarchy forward into the 21st Century. This book is similar in tone, but the movie was a nice setup for the book.

Whatever your view of the sovereign, the monarchy, and its future, this book will give you a comprehensive view of the past sixty years and will endure you to the Queen. It’s full of odd facts (I took 23 pages of notes) that will delight those with a historian bent. The writing skips along, and is never uninteresting. I can’t recommend it enough.

Now excuse me while I research Corgi rescues that I can name “Lilibet.”

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Without hesitation.

Check out Sophisticated Dorkiness's review here.

1 comment:

  1. The part on Princess Di really surprised me too, especially since so much of the book had been so generous to nearly everyone up to that point. None of the other exes get that sort of dark treatment. It was really strange. I think Smith did a biography of Diana too, so maybe that played into it somehow.