In her 60-year-reign, Elizabeth II has evolved “from beautiful ingénue to businesslike working mother to wise grandmother,” whose grave public persona conceals her spirit, intelligence, humor, and joie de vivre. In a respectful, engrossing, and perceptive portrayal, Smith (Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess) relates that Elizabeth defied her mother in marrying her cheeky third-cousin Prince Philip of Greece, but she bowed to Churchill in not adopting Philip’s surname, which strained their marriage; while her laissez-faire attitude toward child-rearing allowed a flinty, critical Philip to dominate the sensitive Charles. Her compassion in shaking hands with cured Nigerian lepers in 1956 prefigured Diana’s handshake with an AIDS patient in 1987. But while some of the inner workings of the monarchy are exposed, Smith often pulls her punches; the queen’s passion for her dogs and horses gets more ink than daughters-in-law Camilla and Sophie, and the monarch remains distant, her thoughts and feelings ultimately unknowable. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Jan.)
“An excellent, all-embracing new biography.”—The New York Times
“[An] imposing, yet nimbly written, biography [that] dwarfs the field . . . a most satisfying and enjoyable read, one to be savored at length.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Fascinating . . . After sixty 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.”—More
“Smith breaks new ground, [with the cooperation of] more than two hundred people, [including] the Queen’s relatives and friends. . . . [A] smart and satisfying book.”—Los Angeles Times
“A fresh and admiring look at Elizabeth II, a woman whose life has been chronicled in numerous books, but perhaps never with such intimacy.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
Smith (contributing editor, Vanity Fair; Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House) has written a satisfying biography of a woman who is both very private and one of the most famous people in the world. The Queen has never given an interview or authorized a biography, but Buckinham Palace staff courteously help authors such as Smith and Andrew Marr (The Real Elizabeth, reviewed above). Smith interviewed over 200 people who have interacted with the Queen, the majority of whom spoke on the record, including both Bush presidents, Lucian Freud, Helen Mirren, and Paul McCartney, as well as lesser-known relatives and friends. She succeeds in portraying something of the monarch's personal life through anecdotes that show the Queen's sharp intelligence and dry sense of humor. VERDICT The results are as informative as they are entertaining. Comparable to Ben Pimlott's excellent The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II (1998), but with information on nearly 15 more years, this will appeal to readers of biographies, British history, and all followers of the British royal family. The Queen's 2012 Diamond Jubilee should increase demand. With impressive source notes and bibliography. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]—Elizabeth Mellett, Brookline P.L., MA
A microscopically detailed portrait of the reigning Queen of England. Vaulted unexpectedly onto the throne at a young age after the death of her father, and before that the abdication of her uncle, Elizabeth II has occupied the position for 50 years, as the British Empire faded into the Commonwealth and the monarchy turned from making history to making tabloid headlines. Smith (For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years, 2007, etc.) traces the queen's life with exhausting thoroughness, down to what was served for dinner at seemingly every royal function she attended. As an American, the author brings an outsider's perspective to the insular world of British royalty; those already familiar with its intricacies may want to skim the detailed explanations of protocol and the meaning of each ritual. Behind all the pomp and circumstance, Smith reminds us, is a real person, a wife and mother as well as a monarch. Though we do see glimpses of her humanity through the years, it becomes clear that Elizabeth's position, and her duty to uphold its honor, is who she is at her core--Queen and country always come before wife and mother. Though Smith is clearly a supporter, she does not shy away from showing the blemishes beneath the polished facade, and readers in search of juicy gossip will find plenty of palace intrigue, illicit affairs, breaches of protocol and other drama. Of particular note are the events leading up to the Annus horribilis of 1992, with Prince Charles portrayed as the victim in his tragic relationship with Diana, who is shown as selfish, childish and emotionally and mentally unstable. But Elizabeth rarely makes a misstep, remaining the solid center that keeps the monarchy standing. God save the Queen. She is a human being, and an extraordinary one at that.