Elizabeth The Queen, The Life Of A Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith
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!