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Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

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Perfect for fans of The Crown, this magisterial biography of Queen Elizabeth II is a close-up view of the woman we’ve known only from a distance—and a captivating window into the last great monarchy.

From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.

In Elizabeth the Queen, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes “heiress presumptive” when her uncle abdicates the throne. We meet the thirteen-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents prefer wealthier English aristocrats. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. We see the young Queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Sally Bedell Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the Queen’s daily routines—the “red boxes” of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with twelve prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad, and the constant scrutiny of the press—as well as her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of sixty-four years and the love of her life; her children and their often-disastrous marriages; her grandchildren and friends.

663 pages, Hardcover

First published January 10, 2012

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About the author

Sally Bedell Smith

15 books259 followers
Author of six biographies: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch (Random House 2102); For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years (Random House 2007); Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House (Random House 2004); Diana In Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess (Random House 2004); Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman (Simon & Schuster, 1996); In All His Glory: The Life and Times of William S. Paley and the Birth of Modern Broadcasting (Simon & Schuster, 1990).
Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair since 1996.
Previously cultural news reporter for The New York Times, staff writer for TV Guide, and reporter-researcher for Time Magazine.
Awarded the Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for magazine reporting in 1982; fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University from 1986 to 1987.
B.A. from Wheaton College and M.S. from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,409 reviews
Profile Image for Julie .
3,990 reviews58.9k followers
January 22, 2018
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith is a 2012 Random House publication.

Well written, very interesting, and detailed accounting Queen Elizabeth’s life-

I will be completely honest – I’m not really a ‘royal watcher’. Before Diana married Price Charles and the media circus surrounding the wedding, I couldn’t have cared less about the royal family. I never gave Queen Elizabeth a second thought.

But, like many other American girls my age, Diana captured my teenage imagination and like nearly everyone else, I hauled myself out of bed at an ungodly time of the morning to watch their nuptials, completely enthralled by the fairy tale romance.

Of course, when the fairy tale ended in divorce, then the fatal car accident and all the rest, I reverted back to a feeling of apathy towards the Royals.

But even during the peak of royal coverage, Queen Elizabeth was of no interest to me, and I don’t think I could have told you one basic thing about her, until I saw the movie- ‘The Queen’ starring Helen Mirren, which I watched only because I wanted to see Helen’s acting performance.

But, I found myself caught up in the story and from that time forward I had a completely different opinion of Elizabeth, and found myself wishing to know more about her.

However, I never got around to reading a biography over life, until now. The new Netflix drama- ‘The Crown’- which I have yet to see, has sparked renewed interest in Queen Elizabeth, which has, of course, renewed interest in books written about her, as well. Random House has taken advantage of all that buzz and has been promoting this book while the topic is hot.

Naturally, with all this chatter, I was reminded of my intent to learn more about the queen, so after looking over several other choices, I decided on this book, as it seemed like a great place to start, and it had mostly favorable reviews, plus it won a Goodreads Choice Award in 2012.

The book is a bit lengthy, and covers Elizabeth’s life from birth all the up to the days just prior to the publication of this book.

Now, I must say, it is apparent, to me at least, that Ms. Bedell is in awe of her subject. I can’t recall, even when addressing the few times Elizabeth showed some human failings, that the author didn’t come to her defense, placing blame on others, or glossing over the queen’s mistakes or foibles in such a way it didn’t feel like a criticism.

Usually, this type of open, unapologetic hero worship by a biographer is a turn off. I think the author should do everything humanly possible to keep a neutral frame of mind, and should be willing to ask the hard questions from their subjects- even the Queen of England.

However, in this instance, it was an annoyance I was willing to endure, in exchange for the captivating details of Elizabeth’s life, not only as the queen, but also as a wife and mother. I found the daily rituals the queen performs, the duties and responsibilities, and the demand on her time absolutely riveting and exhausting! Sometimes it seemed mundane and tedious, and at others it seems like a such an interesting and glamorous life.

Her long life and reign has seen the passage of several prime ministers, some of whom Elizabeth had a warm relationship with, and some - maybe not. She met many US presidents and other world leaders and celebrities, displayed plenty of pomp and circumstance, traveled the world over, and participated in or witnessed so many important changes and world events, it is mind boggling.

The royal family doesn’t just sit around living in opulent luxury. The queen’s job is far more important than I had ever imagined. I do understand that British citizens have balked over their taxes being used for various restorations and question the purpose or need of a monarchy, and are often understandably resentful, but this book does give those of us who are not British, a chance to absorb a broader and perhaps more realistic picture of the queen, explaining what she has the power to control or change, while outlining her limitations.

If for no other reason, read this book for a look at the way the monarchy works, what the job is really like, what the responsibilities and expectations are of the Queen, and experience the way Elizabeth rose to and met the challenges of being the queen, and at such a young age, too. See the trials she endured, and watch as she handles it all with grace- both the good and the bad.

Queen Elizabeth has led a most extraordinary life and for someone like myself who has never really paid all that much attention to the royal family, I found her to be an incredibly interesting person and this book only deepened my respect for her.

She occasionally missed queues that damaged her in the eyes of her countrymen, rode out a few politically incorrect utterances from her husband, and while her children were often a source of frustration and embarrassment, for the most part, she’s represented the monarchy with grace and dignity.

This is a very in depth look at Queen Elizabeth’s life, giving readers a rare glimpse of how fragile the line is between the desire for openness and the need for retaining a certain air of mystery between the citizens and the monarchy. The historical aspects are equally fascinating, and it was nice to see events unfold from a different perspective than I am accustomed.

Despite the author’s occasional digs at those who dared to challenge or criticize the queen, blatantly taking sides against any and all enemies, real or perceived, I have to say, the more I learn about her, the more I admire Queen Elizabeth.

Overall, I’m impressed with the author’s layout of the book, the accuracy, the research and the smooth presentation of facts, and found it to be very informative, and deeply absorbing.

4 stars
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews317 followers
October 28, 2018
Hands down the most comprehensive, well-researched and interesting biography I have ever come across. As an Anglophile and a royal watcher fascinated by the history of the monarchy, I was keen to read this book especially after it was recommended to me by two friends I trust.

The portrait drawn here is of a mighty remarkable woman, one who was called to the throne early in life, but who assumed her role with dignity, grace and more pluck than most credit her with. More than anything else, this biography highlighted how truly honor bound she is to what she deems her life of service and provided a new perspective as to how I view her role in a much more dynamic and more empathetic way.

This is marketed to fans of The Crown and I will agree that it illuminates and fills in what fans of that outstanding series might be hungry for, but at 660 pages and for this reader, over 21 hours of listening, it’s really not for the casual observer. Five stars for a treasure trove of information, but settled at four for the more than occasional lapses into minutiae.
Profile Image for Carol.
822 reviews476 followers
September 25, 2017
The Hook - I rarely write a hook for non-fiction but in the case of Elizabeth The Queen I felt the urge to tell you how this title made my list.

I’ve never been a royal watcher or much of a royal fan, until I had my DNA tested. I went through my whole life thinking I was pretty much Italian. Imagine my shock when my test showed I was only 47% Italian with a smattering of other regions including 11% Great Britain. I realize 11% is not a great deal and though I knew there was a chance I had some British ancestry, I was surprised it was that much. So I put aside my pasta maker and decided to learn a bit more about The Queen.

Published just before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, this audio version is a commitment at 17 discs but one well worth it. I’m certain there are many that wouldn’t find much new here but for me, I learned a great deal. Rather than go into detail let me just say I came away with a different and better impression of the monarchy and The Queen as a whole. Sally Bedell Smith’s book is a blend of history, gossip, humor, family, her official duties and just enough of her private life to keep me entertained. Rosalyn Landor narrates with a proper British accent delivering the pomp and circumstance befitting a queen.

An enjoyable listen, I’ll mention a few take-aways. Elizabeth II is a far warmer person than I would have imagined, a woman of stalwart character who has a life long fondness for horses and a love for family and country. I’m proud to have 11% Great Britain Ethnicity.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,079 reviews2,607 followers
August 19, 2017
This is a marvelously entertaining biography about Queen Elizabeth II.

Sally Bedell Smith's book covers the queen's life from her childhood up to the wedding of Kate & William in 2011. I especially enjoyed the stories that were similar to scenes from the show "The Crown." After finishing the book I have more admiration for Elizabeth's dignified leadership and a better appreciation of the role that she plays.

Recommended for readers interested in learning more about the royal family.

Personal Note
By coincidence I read this book during a particularly crazy time involving the current U.S. president, Donald J. Trump. (To be specific, this was when DJT was threatening to start a nuclear war with North Korea and he had made supportive comments about neo-Nazis and white supremacists.)

So after finishing this biography about the dignified and gracious queen, I was curious if it's too late for America to rejoin the British Commonwealth. Asking for a friend.

Meaningful Quote
"In her epic life, the Queen has played her part like a great actress — the only person about whom it can truly be said that all the world is a stage. Billions have watched her evolve from a beautiful ingenue to a businesslike working mother to a wise grandmother. When she was twenty-eight years old and had been on the throne for three years, her first private secretary, Sir Alan Lascelles, said, 'People will not realize for years how intelligent she is ... Eventually it will become an accepted national fact.' Yet while her public persona conveys gravitas, she has concealed much of that intelligence, much of her personality and humor. Behind her enigmatic and dignified facade resides a largely unknown woman."
Profile Image for MichelleCH.
207 reviews26 followers
March 11, 2012
Just awful, if an author is going to propose a biography of a well known figure, at least have the courage to acknowledge a bias or predisposition to a certain viewpoint. This so-called biography is laughable. Yes she had access to "never before seen documents", but shouldn't we have heard some of this before? Somehow the author knows what Princess Diana's children and Tony Blair were thinking and their thoughts always paint Diana in the worst light possible. Really! Very National Enquirer-like. Diana is a scheming meany who the Queen tries over and over to engage. I think that listening to the audio version allowed me to pick up much more than I normally would have through reading.
The beginning of the book sped along well with the Queen a picture of perfection and duty. In the middle things got ugly. The ridiculous behavior of Prince Phillip and the other royals is minimized and excuse after excuse is made; its all about duty darling. Give me a break!
Profile Image for Lynn.
821 reviews121 followers
May 19, 2019
This is a fascinating book about an extraordinary woman.

Princess Elizabeth has a fairly normal upbringing for a member of the Royal family, given that she was not raised to become Queen. But when her uncle, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne for Wallis Simpson, her father became King George VI and she became next in line for the throne. Upon her father’s untimely death in 1852, Elizabeth, at age 25 became Queen Elizabeth II. She took her duties very seriously, stating:
“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
She has embodied this pledge throughout her entire reign.

The book delves deeply into her family, her causes, her interests and especially her life as Queen. The portrait is mostly positive, though the author does get into some of the controversies she has endured. Although she was not a “hands on” type of mother, and her duties as Queen seemed to override her duties as a mother, she still comes across as a caring, sympathetic woman. She has a wonderful sense of humor, and “ She sort of expands when she laughs. She laughs with her whole face.” She readily admits that her resting face makes her look glum.

She has experienced many tragedies in her life: the loss of her beloved father; the death of her mother and sister just weeks apart; the murder of Phillip’s uncle Louis Mountbatten; and the death of Diana.
“Grief is the price all pay for love.”

There are so many people in this book that is sometimes hard to keep track of them all. The many family members, all the courtiers, the revolving door of Prime Ministers, etc.
Some are sympathetically portrayed, some are not. Diana, especially, is not treated kindly in this book, although it may be warranted. Princess Margaret is also not viewed in a very positive light, although the Queen remained close to her until the end.

I’m not sure if this book changed my mind about everyone, but I came away with a huge admiration and respect for Queen Elizabeth, and her devotion to her country. The woman is indefatigable, standing for hours at a time, making small talk with strangers, poring over briefing books so that she always prepared for each event. She had an encyclopedic mind for government details, horse breeding and for all the jewels and artwork she owns. She is always very careful to be neutral about political issues, never expressing her opinion to her PMs but asking pertinent questions to help guide them and allowing herself to be a sounding board for them.

The book itself is very well written, and although long, with a lot of detail and minutiae, it feels very personal and intimate and never dragged. I would just get lost in it.

Whether or not you are an Anglophile, I definitely recommend this book. Queen Elizabeth is truly a magnificent woman, and I enjoyed getting to know her.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,198 reviews374 followers
April 3, 2018
This was a fantastic portrait of perhaps the most constant, consistent persona of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Especially now, as we follow the Queen into her nineties (and minimal signs of slowing down, as with her eighties), it's mind-boggling to think of all the people she has come in contact with and all the policies she's had a hand in advising.

I'd love to see an updated edition in a year or so to include William and Kate's kids and Harry & Meghan's wedding. Back to rewatching The Crown I go.
Profile Image for Wanda.
284 reviews11 followers
April 14, 2012
A very detailed biography that gives one the feeling that the author cobbled together multiple People magazine articles. The treatment of the queen is sycophantic and the historical contextualization is superficial. Prince Charles comes off as a misguided but lovable dweeb; while Diana is villified. Even Camilla comes off as wonderful. I am not saying that Diana did not have problems and was not a manipulative person, but everyone comes off as well meaning in this book but her. The author's treatment of the U.S. is also ridiculously glowing. Surely the queen has a more nuanced view of a country that has been the aggressor in most of the wars since she became queen. To hear this author tell it, Elizabeth is uncritically enamoured of the U.S. Altogether a one sided and uncritical treatment of Elizabeth that is written in wooden prose. If you want a vibrant biography that will keep you reading try Massie's Catherine the Great. Now that guy can do an engaging biography!
Profile Image for Lynda.
2,290 reviews111 followers
January 28, 2015
I am an unashamed royalist and anglophile. I have read quite a few histories and biographies of twentieth century English history. If I had not done so much reading, I probably would have enjoyed this book more.

This is a superficial handling of the subject. It is a popular biography. It is also biased. I would not recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in anything other than entertainment.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
September 6, 2015
Description: From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.

In Elizabeth the Queen, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes “heiress presumptive” when her uncle abdicates the throne. We meet the thirteen-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents prefer wealthier English aristocrats. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. We see the young Queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Sally Bedell Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the Queen’s daily routines—the “red boxes” of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with twelve prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad, and the constant scrutiny of the press—as well as her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of sixty-four years and the love of her life; her children and their often-disastrous marriages; her grandchildren and friends.

It seems fitting that this should be the currently-reading book as Elizabeth II becomes the longest reigning monarch in British history.

Positive skewed spin in action, a chocolate box of surface gen, this only deserved the barest of skim reads. Will I seek a more erudite rendition? Nah, you're alright, I've theoretically bobbed to the subject.
Profile Image for Lesa Parnham.
640 reviews18 followers
January 26, 2012
Parts were fascinating, parts were boring (one Prime Minister after another), I have read enough about the royal family to have doubts about how much of this is true. Quite possibly the author didn't want to make the queen angry. What happened to the c/c bracelet that Charles had for Camilla right before he was married to Diana? It is a proven fact that Charles carried on a relationship with Camilla throughout the marriage, Smith skipped over the part where while being interviewed on tv said he never loved Diana? I think Diana got a really bad rap in this book albeit she was not a completely innocent party.

As for Prince Phillip, his philandering has also been well documented.

As this book is written, the Queen is fascinating although a lot of the pomp and circumstance is ridiculous and should have been done away with a long time ago.

In the books favor, it was interesting to glimpse a private view of the Queen, the Queen Mum, Winston Churchill.

BTW all US presidents were mentioned with the exception of Jimmy Carter, whats that about???
Profile Image for Leslie.
2,680 reviews2 followers
September 19, 2017
This is a book that is unapologetically PRO-Queen, or royalist, monarchist or as Dame Helen Mirren said "Queenist". This is also a fairly long book that is best read in small bits. The author does a great job of juxtaposing what is going on in England, the UK and the world with the details of Elizabeth II's reign.

We get to meet her Prime Ministers, her advisors, her friends. We learn about her hobbies; horses and horse racing, and horse breeding. Her family, her family dysfunction and more. If you are looking for gossip or slander look elsewhere.

There are a TON of photos that are from private collections and are wonderful.

It is hard to believe that while there have been 10 Presidents, 6 James Bonds and 3 spidermen there has only been one Queen of England in my entire life.
Profile Image for Christina DeVane.
355 reviews25 followers
December 3, 2022
I picked this up from the library soon after the Queen’s death thinking I should learn more about her. And I’m really glad I did as she had an extraordinary life through a lot of incredible history!
This is a big book (544 pages) and there were some slow parts, but overall it was very enjoyable. The descriptions of government and duties were probably my least favorite.🤗

Several nuggets I picked up on throughout the book that I found interesting and/or I want to remember:

📖 They had an 8 foot wedding cake and cut it with a 🗡 sword. Wow.

📖 Christmas 1957 address:
“Inventions themselves are not the problem rather the trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.” To uphold endangered “fundamental principles” She called for a “special kind of courage which makes us stand up for everything we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.”

📖 The man responsible for the art collections in her palaces was a spy for the Soviet Union.

📖 The queen remarks after looking at her painted portrait: “One doesn’t know one’s self. After all, we have a biased view when we see ourselves in a mirror, and what’s more, the image is always in reverse.”

📖 She was criticized for not being an available mother which would be incredibly hard to do as the queen, but she missed really big events like first birthdays and Christmas with them! 😯 She didn’t seem to rebuke them much especially as they got older which led to major family crises in the 80’s and 90’s. (I’m not blaming her for her children’s decisions- just an observation) In one year 3 of her 4 children announced their separations or finalized their divorces from their spouses.

📖 The value of criticism: “No institution should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t. Scrutiny can be just as effective if it is made with a touch of gentleness, good humor, and understanding. This sort of questioning can also act, and it should do so, as an effective engine for change.”

📖 “Grief is the price we pay for love.”😭💞

📖 The KJV was her preferred version of the Bible. She called the King James Bible “a masterpiece of English prose.”

📖 The monarchy went through many ups and downs in her lifetime and after 50 years (2002) the country seemed to finally appreciate her role and all she had done for them. The monarchy has only gotten stronger with the marriage of Prince William and Kate which the book ends with.

📖 I thought the ending of the book put her life into concise, eloquent words: “Elizabeth II fulfilled her duty with steadfast determination and clarity of purpose, exerting influence without grasping for power, retaining her personal humility despite her public celebrity - and above all, in good times and bad, spreading a carpet of happiness.”

This book was published in 2012, and at the beginning the author notes that the queen could last another decade which was exactly right as she died in September of 2022.💜
Profile Image for Dianne.
471 reviews9 followers
April 20, 2013
Queen Elizabeth II is someone I've admired all my life. She was crowned in the second year of my life, so she has been my Queen for 60 years. I can't imagine having any other monarch, though I probably will have to get used to a change if I survive another decade. It's a change I don't look forward to.

There have been many, many books and television shows about Queen Elizabeth, including the popular movie, which I loved, "The Queen", with Helen Mirren in 2006. They all have their own slant (there won't be an official biography until after her death) and it can be difficult to sort out what is fact and what is just the bias of the authour, but I thought this one was quite balanced. It acknowledges her strengths, but doesn't hide her flaws or the mistakes she's made. It presents her as a strong and honourable, but not perfect, human being.

I did find it to be somewhat anti-Diana. Whenever it discusses Charles' marriage, the fault for all their problems is clearly laid at her feet. I realize she was not innocent, but they'll never convince me that Charles was just a victim of her emotional instability. In my view, he has things to answer for too.

An aspect of the book I particularly loved was the history review. Beginning with King George VI's unexpected coronation in 1937 and continuing right up to William and Catherine's wedding in 2010, every major world event is looked at. How the Queen and her family were affected, how she responded and how she influenced the thinking and decisions of other world leaders makes for fascinating reading.

There is at least as much political information as personal here, which may not appeal to readers who are only interested in learning about her private life. To give a complete picture, the book has to be political because her life is, even as a non-partisan monarch, extremely political. It is in the face of national and international crises that her strength and character as a world leader, and as a human being, are revealed. A section of the preface says: "She also has the positive power of influence: 'the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.' In public she influences through her example, by setting a high standard for service and citizenship, by rewarding achievement, and by diligently carrying out her duties. Tony Blair, the tenth of her twelve Prime Ministers called her 'a symbol of unity in a world of insecurity....simply the best of British'."

There are also lots of glimpses into her personal life: her relationships with her parents, her sister, her husband and children and friends. And it's not all duty and formality; there are a lot of funny moments that show the Queen's sense of humour and provide some comic relief in the midst of stories about war, terrorist attacks and family crises.

A very nice addition to the book are the two sections, 32 pages in all, of photographs. We see her changing a tire as a young woman in 1945, being crowned Queen in 1953, making an unannounced visit to an American supermarket in 1957, entertaining President and Mrs. Kennedy in 1961, on the dance floor in 1972, laughing with her family in 1982 and wiping away a tear at the decommissioning of her "floating home", the royal yacht Britannia, in 1997. I was reminded again of how beautiful she was in her younger years and what a stunning couple she and Prince Philip made.

I have to say this was a genuinely interesting book. At 537 pages, it still wasn't long enough. I know I'll read it again, and I sincerely hope there will be another book one day about the next ten years of Elizabeth II's reign. God save the Queen!
Profile Image for Susan.
63 reviews6 followers
October 2, 2014
I have never given a book that I've finished a one-star rating. I finished the book because I'm the stubborn type, but wanted to give the author the benefit of a doubt and hope that eventually there would be some even-handedness to what is supposed to be a biography. That never happened.

In a nutshell-- Elizabeth II--which is how she is referred to a million times in this book as if we might forget WHICH Elizabeth--is perfect and anything bad that has happened during her reign is all Diana's fault. I am not kidding. This makes sense once you know that the author had previously written a rather nasty book about Diana.

This book is an Anglophile's fawning over her subject and nothing more. Smith tries to give a sense of compassion to a woman who doesn't seem capable of emotion, except when she gives up her gigantic yacht which the British people paid handsomely for. She cries over the yacht but can't bring herself to hug her children when she is reunited with them after long absences.

I give Smith points for writing about the incident where Charles tells Camilla he wishes he could be her tampon. But I have to take those points back when she justifies Elizabeth taking her grandsons hunting and fishing the day after their mother is killed because killing animals is going to help them grieve. Oops, sorry--Elizabeth II. Just in case you got confused about which Elizabeth.

Profile Image for Suzannah.
Author 27 books461 followers
January 30, 2019
Pedestrian and anodyne biography of Elizabeth II. That's the problem with most biographies - you have to wait until the person is dead and can't be offended, and when the person is royalty you pretty much have to add another 100 years to that before getting anything like a clear, unpartisan perspective. Nevertheless, the 20th century is the one period of history I've formerly ignored, and I've got to have SOMETHING to tide me over till the advent of season 3 of everyone's favourite glitzy royal soap opera, so I read it on holiday.
Profile Image for E.
318 reviews
December 5, 2011
Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch
 by Sally Bedell Smith is an in depth look at the life of, perhaps, the most well-known woman in the world. This is a biography of both a woman and a Queen who has reigned for sixty years.  From the first page it becomes obvious that this a well-researched work filled with anecdotes that provide an opportunity to understand how she has managed to be a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and grandmother as well as a monarch.
The abdication of King Edward VIII eventually led to a child called Lilibet to become  Queen Elizabeth II at age twenty-five. At an early age she fell in love with the man she would marry and who still stands at her side today.  Their  marriage is worth examining  in light of their extraordinary life.  The author also provides insight into who Prince Philip is- both as an individual and the role he plays in this long lasting relationship.  The relationships with their  children and grandchildren are candidly presented.  It is clear that they are a family. The Queen is shown to be a non-interfering and tactful parent.  Considering the fact that their lives are public, these attributes alone are amazing. 
The author provides a chronological timeline of the Queen’s personal life and her role as the monarch. She opens the door to life within the  monarchy and how it functions. The one constant that is repeated
throughout the book is that Queen Elizabeth II has reigned with grace and integrity for sixty years. Her commitment to service is absolute.
She is known to possess both wit and wisdom as well as the ability to change when the times require it. 

This is a beautifully written book. In my opinion, if one decides to read only one book about the Queen then this is that book.
I received this book at no charge from Goodreads First Reads. 

Profile Image for Dianne.
370 reviews3 followers
October 3, 2022
A lot of years and history were covered in this book which was done chronological. As a fan of British history and a “Royal Watcher”, I sometimes cringe when I see a book about the monarchy so I try to stay away from the mud slinging tabloid types. This book was tastefully done and very informative. A fitting tribute read for a remarkable Queen that lead with grace and dignity. I listened to the audiobook read by Rosalyn Landor, who did a fantastic job.
Profile Image for Sarah.
273 reviews16 followers
June 18, 2012
Books about royalty, British royalty in particular, are my secret passion. Victoria's Daughters, Tina Brown's biography of Diana....I hung on every word. Nothing better than good gossipy history. So I picked up the hefty 537 page autobiography of QE II with some excitement. I enjoyed reading it, but was frankly...a little boring.
The author interviewed many people with numerous anecdotes, all of which portrayed the Queen as smart, admirably devoted and loving at all times, but there was no analysis and nary a controversial word. Elizabeth has been one of the longest reigning monarchs in British history, during a time of enormous global change. Change , for the most part where England and some Commonwealth countries have been a major players. But this book is chock full of trivial detail and fluffy anecdotes. Did I need to know, for example, that the queen gets her hair washed by leaning forward over the basin, rather than back like most people? There is nothing about Diana and Fergie that you couldn't have read in People magazine,and not more than a few pages about Maggie Thatcher, which should have been great history. It was an enjoyable tome of trivia.
Profile Image for Mousie.
35 reviews
December 11, 2011
I really, REALLY enjoyed this book! I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy. I found myself unable to put it down. It was a very easy read and you come away with a real sense of who the Queen is. Not an easy feat, I'm sure. You see both her public and hints of her private persona, along with her strengths and weaknesses. There is a lot to admire about her.

Smith also does a great job writing for an American audience, who might not be as knowledgable about some of the inner workings of the British system.

I can't wait to read it again!
Profile Image for Jamie.
599 reviews37 followers
July 18, 2022
EXCEPTIONALLY well done and so well put together! I absolutely loved my experience from start to finish and wanted even more! Don't know why I have been so afraid to give this one a try for so long. Think I am always intimidated of memoirs or biographies of great size, but then I always enjoy them! And this one was no different. Absolutely fascinating! Learned so very much about lovely QEII.
Profile Image for Ann.
720 reviews
July 7, 2022
Part of my Platinum Jubilee reading!
Profile Image for ❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀.
581 reviews127 followers
January 27, 2022
3 Stars

The early chapters were great, but I lost interest about halfway through as it seemed to be just a rehashing of things I've read about in newspapers, magazines, or other books about the British royals. Otherwise a good over view biography.
Profile Image for Katie.
511 reviews204 followers
December 12, 2019
I started reading this because I love watching The Crown. There are actually a number of similarities between the show and the book (perhaps not surprising since it’s nonfiction afterall, but the perspectives on different events line up).

I think the most interesting part to me were the sections on Princess Diana, but for different reasons than I initially thought. Bedell Smith paints a less rosy picture of Diana than I think we typically see, but in retrospect I would say that it’s remarkably objective. She explains where the notion of “the people’s princess” came from, and also how Diana often found herself in opposition to the royal family.

This did take quite a long time to read (700+ pages!!), and unfortunately I’m reviewing it a week after reading it, but it certainly does give a comprehensive look at the Queen’s life, her interactions with foreign leaders (a number of US Presidents make an appearance), and the Queen's family. I would definitely recommend reading if you’re also a fan of The Crown.

See more of my reviews: Blog // Instagram
Profile Image for Jamie Collins.
1,418 reviews261 followers
January 2, 2012
I received a free Advance Reader's Edition of this book. I found it a very readable biography, and quite absorbing, particularly in the first half.

I've read other books about George VI and Elizabeth II, so I already knew much of the information presented about the Queen's early life. A good bit of the material about the middle part of her life was new to me, and quite interesting. Some of the later stuff felt ripped from the headlines: Diana, Fergie, William & Kate, etc.

The author doesn't hesitate to express her person opinions: for instance, it's obvious that she admires Margaret Thatcher, and that she blames the Diana fiasco largely on Diana's mental illness and general unsuitability for her position.

The book does a good job of portraying the Queen's professionalism. She didn't choose her profession, but she has done perhaps the best job that anyone could in that position.

The cover photograph is a beautiful one, but I think it's hardly recognizable as the Queen.
Profile Image for Karis North.
625 reviews10 followers
April 15, 2012
If you're looking for a balanced and even handed review of Elizabeth II's reign, this book isn't it. It was so blatantly pro-monarchy, and so blindly partisan towards the Queen that even I found it too much to bear. And how the author dealt with Diana (and all the royal brides, frankly) was awful. A large investment of time and not near enough return.
Profile Image for Любен Спасов.
232 reviews38 followers
November 17, 2022
Сали Бидъл Смит е свършила страхотна работа с написването на тази биография. Книгата се чете леко и въпреки че покрай "The Crown" историята на кралското семейство ми е доста позната и информацията в главата ми е прясна, Смит нито за момент не ме отегчи. Толкова интересно е описала всичко, че четях нещата сякаш за първи път се сблъсквам с тях.

Авторката започва с лична история свързана с кралицата и по този начин още в началото успява да ми придаде усещането, че тази книга е нещо лично за нея, а не поредното скучновато описване на живота на най-дълго управляващия монарх. През цялата книга Сали Бидъл Смит редува разказването на важни за управлението на Елизабет исторически събития с личните драми на семейството и с какво се сблъсква тя като дъщеря, съпруга, майка и баба.

В един момент четем за нейните пътувания в чужбина, срещите и с американски президенти и други важни политически фигури. На страниците на книгата виждаме как тя взима важни решения за Великобритания и как се е сп��авила с Чърчил, Тачър, Блеър и всички други премиер-министри по време на нейното дълго управление.

Разбира се, много любопитни са и отношенията между членовете на кралското семейство, които в книгата са описани доста подробно, а авторката обръща внимание на всички гледни точки.

Колкото и смешно да звучи чрез книгата си направих едно припомняне на сериала до този момент и може би не я приемам толкова като биография на Елизабет II, колкото да си припомня какво съм гледал 4 сезона.

В обобщение мога да кажа, че и книгата, и сериалът си заслужават. Дори и да сте гледали “The Crown” или пък сте от хората, които знаят всичко за кралското семейство, отново дайте шанс на „Елизабет, кралицата“ от Сали Бидъл Смит. Една добре написана биография, която ще ви е интересна от първата до последната страница.
Profile Image for Simon.
800 reviews99 followers
December 17, 2013
I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. The Life of a Modern Monarch is incredibly boring, if you go by this book. Score another victory for Elizabeth Windsor. No one ever seems to get under her skin and reveal what makes her tick. There may be two reasons for this. The first is that she is really adept a concealing what is going on underneath, and the second is that there isn't a whole lot going on. She comes across as a moderately intelligent snob for most of her life (Smith can't get enough of the fact that the Queen washes everyone's dishes after dining al fresco, which is not my idea of the common touch), and who has had a lavish run. No major news in this biography. Really no "news" at all, even though Smith does a few laps around the "Diana was really troubled" racetrack, and while she does her darndest to make Charles sound like less of a tool, better writers than she have tried and failed. Philip comes across a bit better than usual, but everyone else in Elizabeth II's family are portrayed strictly as cardboard figures. Why did someone from a background that stressed unbending allegiance to "family values" (suck it, Wallis Windsor) have three children with failed first marriages? No clues here. Diana was jailbait who forced Charles to marry her (I know), Fergie was just a big dumb good-hearted girl but the kids couldn't make it work, and Mark Phillips --- well, who remembers Mark Philips other than Zara and Peter? And through it all the Queen talks about horses (okay, there is one really startling revelation --- she watches her horses, um, mate. I don't know about you, but there's one for the photo album we'll never see) and post-Diana's death makes uneasy attempts to loosen up. I almost threw the book across the room when I realized that Smith was actually spending time discussing what a good sport and people person the Queen is for not actually belting Michelle Obama as the First Lady casually patted her royal back. One promising thing: Elizabeth has kept a lifelong diary. Move over, Victoria!
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,432 reviews105 followers
September 16, 2012
Being an unabashed Anglophile, I looked forward to reading this biography by an author whose work I have enjoyed. And I was not disappointed. This is an illuminating profile of the woman who has been on the British throne for 60 years and has become a beloved icon to her people. We see her in her personal moments although, as the author states, "there is never a moment in her life that she is not the Queen". The author may not be totally unbiased but she gives us a glimpse into the joys and sorrows of the Royal Family and the Queen's reactions to such events as Diana's death, the republicanism that abounded in Britain in the 1970s, the Irish "question", and the death of her beloved mother, the Queen "Mum". The book reveals that Queen Elizabeth II is truly a remarkable woman.
Note: I received an ARC of this book through a free give-away from Random House through the History Book Club on Goodreads.
Profile Image for Margaret.
971 reviews6 followers
December 11, 2016
Oh my word, this is the kind of writing that I appreciate in the genre of bibliography and politics. I don't enjoy elaborate detailing of events and dates, I get bored very easily. This book is one that pulls you into the lives and background of Elizabeth II and the Royal family. I don't like nor appreciate gossipy books and this is far from that. I want to be able to view the person or people in a book without all the gossipy details. Obviously there were scandals and in particular the story of Charles and Diana. The author handled these topics and people judiciously, without judgement. I also got a sense of the important role that the Queen plays within her country and realm. I came away truly admiring this strong and wonderful woman. A must read, I often will not give out 5 stars to a book and I decided that yes, this is a winner.
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