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.