A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith- Feature and Review


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.



Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern MonarchElizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.





Sally Bedell Smith's seven biographies, including New York Times bestsellers "Diana in Search of Herself," "Grace and Power," and "Elizabeth the Queen," have all been about significant figures on the world stage. Her latest book, "Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life," published on April 4, 2017, was an immediate New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestseller. The first major biography of Prince Charles in more than two decades, it brings to life the real man, with all of his contradictions, complexities, and ambitions--a man with a fiercely independent spirit, yet who has spent more than six decades waiting for his destined role. Smith's biography of Queen Elizabeth II won the 2012 Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence, and the 2012 Goodreads Choice Award for best book in history and biography. That year, Smith was also the consultant to playwright Peter Morgan on "The Audience," his award-winning drama about Queen Elizabeth II starring Helen Mirren that led to his hit Netflix series, "The Crown." She is the mother of three children and lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Stephen Smith.

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