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The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej
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The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  313 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and at the time of his death, in October 2016, was the world’s longest serving monarch. The King Never Smiles, the first independent biography of Thailand's monarch, tells the unexpected story of Bhumibol's life and sixty-year rule—how a Western-raised boy ...more
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published July 20th 2006 by Yale University Press (first published July 1st 2006)
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Sep 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
In some ways this feels like 3 books:

First we have a fairly complex and scholarly introduction to the semi-religious concepts of the Devaraja and the Dhammaraja. Not easy going but if you find it difficult read the next few chapters and then come back to it as you'll find it easier once you see the real life examples

Second there is the description of the efforts of a few powerful and ambitious aristocrats in the Court to rebuild the power and prestige of the monarchy by making it more relevant
Feb 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in Thai politics and semi-democratic political systems
Totally different perspective on the role of King Rama 9 (the world's current longest reigning monarch, of over 60 years) in modern Thai history than you get from any other literature. The book is illegal in Thailand, but a friend whose got a friend in the royal circles of Bangkok told me that all the royal family is now reading it...
Paul Handley presents a fairly even analysis... a bit skewed by confirmation bias, but generally fair. The title is misleading; it's not a biography of King Bhumibol so much as an analysis of the institution of the modern monarchy, which is inevitably bound up with Bhumibol, but separate. Handley's argument is at its strongest when he's drawing the devastating connections between Bhumibol and the 1976 Thammasat University massacre. Meanwhile, he's at his weakest when he's trying to articulate th ...more
May 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Bhumibol is a very interesting king...reined for such a long time in a changing country, was raised with Western standards and is living a strictly Buddhistic life, seen as holy by his people. He has done and still does a lot of good things but as everyone involved in politics there are some situations that he seemed to handle in a doubtful way.

The book was written in a fluent style, still it gets boring from time to time. It is critical and interesting but in my opinion it was written a little
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
James Anuntasethakul
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
At first, the thing I want to get from this book is that how King Bhumibol being widely known. Paul clearly explains the relation between King Bhumibol and the army and how he can protect the "monarchy" by himself.

I think that Paul's explanation about King Bhumibol's act is a bit ambiguous but it's ok
if you wanna get a basic knowledge about why he became famous to many other people, you should read this book.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gives you a better understand of the Thai monarchy and their relation with Thai politics.
Book has many references for you to check the information or get more detailed information.
Apr 24, 2010 rated it liked it
This was a strange one-- I wanted to understand what was happening in Thailand a little better, and my friend Sean suggested this, saying he'd heard it was pretty good. And it is good, though I think it also has its limits, both for what I wanted and in other contexts.

The book, taken broadly, is more or less a supplementary history of Thailand, partially since 1932, but mostly from 1947, a history that aims to integrate the role of the monarchy in terms of its influence on the political life of
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'd heard about this book for years, and as someone who had lived in Thailand was very curious about it. While I'm sure that Handley won't be welcome back to the kingdom any time soon for telling the story of the King as he has, I think his book is quite impressive. His writing rendered clear a great many things that had baffled me while in country--in my experience, many people were willing to talk about things like scandals in the royal family, but did not dwell on them at all. I've got a much ...more
Sep 09, 2008 rated it liked it
I found this very interesting - especially since there are not many books on Thailand's monarchy, much less any biographies. Because of the strict censorship Thailand imposes, it is hard to find unbiased views of the monarchy (besides the underground gossip). This biography has created a very different view of the monarchy that I grew up with and heard about but I do wish that it focused more on the king and not the politics of Thailand. I understand that Thai politics play a crucial role in the ...more
Dec 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone living in Thailand
So controversial that it is banned in the Kingdom of Thailand, this thoroughly researched portrait of the modern Thai monarchy proves both eye-opening and very valuable.

The revered King of Thailand undergoes closer scrutiny, under which he actually continues to look like a very kind, benevolent leader. But there are some interesting insights into the machinations of the royalist supporters over the past sixty-plus years. An important read for anyone who will be living in this county, but read i
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
A very well researched look at the Thai monarchy, particularly the unprecedented reign of King Bhumibol (Rama IX). The book is banned in Thailand, certainly it a critical though I believe quite balanced.

I would really like to see an update, given the turmoil in Thailand since it was published in 2006, to cover former Prime Minister Shinawatra's dismissal (and subsequent further controversy) plus coups and red shirt/yellow shirt protests, as well as further speculation of what will become of the
Jan 05, 2008 rated it liked it

Fascinating, comprehensive, and exhaustive look at the mythology surrounding the Thai monarch. So thorough, however, that reading can get tiresome sometimes. This book probably will not be of much interest to those without prior knowledge or interest in Thai politics or culture, as really nothing written can truly convey the status that the king has achieved amongst the Thai people. Without that context to enlighten the analysis, the book would be a chore.
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Definitely not surprised this book is illegal in Thailand!

Currently re-reading it as I'm not sure I correctly digested all the information a couple of months ago, the writing is tedious at times.

It's refreshing to read something other than absolute and unconditional praise for Thailand's monarchy. However, because of Thailand's free information restrictions, I question everything - opposing views, as well - that I read, especially about the monarchy.

Interesting stuff, though.
Kyle Hafar
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Highly critical of the current monarch and his family. This would be very unpleasant reading if you subscribe to the whole mythology/personality cult which has been built up over decades. While it does contain a few undocumented assertions and some speculation (e.g. the Ananda murder/suicide), the documentation is easily sufficient for plausibility.
Jun 08, 2012 added it
One of my fav television image showed the King broking a truce between bitter political figures rivalling for power in the early 90s. Now I see the untold stories behind that image.

Occasionally uncharitable in his assessment, and picking on nitty-gritty details, the book is nevertheless revealing about the other face of the King in contrast to the official version.
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Interesting reading about a topic I knew next to nothing about. I understand current Thai politics and culture much better now than before I started. The book would definitely benefit from maps, charts of the royal family lines, pictures, a pronunciation key and other helps for newcomers. I was very confusing keeping track of all the names.
Nov 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
I'll admit, I didn't read the whole thing. It's long, it's deep, it has a lot of references to people I lost track of who they were. But this is a true story of royal intrigue. Fascinating. I still love the King!
Mar 20, 2013 marked it as to-read
Living in Thailand for 10+ years so of course I'm always keen to find out more about the country, even (well, especially) the bits that make people fearful and uncomfortable. But unable to legally buy or possess here due to censorship....
Jan 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Dragged in the middle - also, I felt you could tell when the tone of the author became more sharp concerning the topic in the second half (perhaps more data sources?)

Interesting perspective on how things work politically in Thailand...and that all hands are at least somewhat dirty.
Tom & Beverly
Jul 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
You really can understand why he never smiles! It gives you an idea of the intrigues of palace and Thail politics which is very complex. Also talks about the future but things change fast and the events of the last coup are not covered but it is more of the same .....
Jesse James
Apr 30, 2008 rated it liked it
I'm really excited to read this biography of the King-it's banned in Thailand! I can't believe I live in a country that has banned books! Up yours, censorship.
Mar 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Read like a history book. I wanted more of a summary. The history is very repetitious.
Miami University Libraries
Sep 23, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: banned-books
Banned/challenged in Thailand
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Ironic insight into the Land of the Smiles
Feb 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
A little repetitive, but good.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Don't bring this book to Thailand, if you are reading it.....and since I do travel to Thailand, perhaps it is best if I do not discuss this book....
Dec 17, 2010 rated it liked it
I did not read it yet
because i never saw it in Thailand
so who had any copy of this book?
Mar 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
A worthy read for anyone with an interest in Thailand's monarchy and how it got to where it is today.
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Banned 1 5 Oct 21, 2014 03:49PM  
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