Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Elizabeth the Queen: Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith

When I initially made plans to visit London this summer, I had no idea I would be arriving the weekend of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebration.  I selected the dates based on price, available direct flights and the desire to leave as soon as school was out.

As I prepared for the trip though, I became aware of the Diamond Jubilee events and it made me want to learn more about Queen Elizabeth II.  I think I probably know more about the royal family than the average American, but that isn't saying much.  And being something of a nerd, part of what I enjoy about traveling is the research done before I leave.  Also, I try to always select travel reading material based on the places I'll be visiting.  I wanted a book about the Queen to read on the plane.

My library is always my first resource, but all of their books about Queen Elizabeth II were checked out.  I put my name on the hold list of the one I wanted to read, but it wasn't available before I left for my trip.

Our first night in London, my friend and I sat in Hyde Park and watched the Diamond Jubilee Concert on big screens.  We bought commemorative tea towels and tote bags at Top Shop.  The windows at Harrods were based on the Diamond Jubilee.  We visited a special exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery focusing on art and the Queen. 

When I returned from Europe (a week in Paris followed my week in London) I was desolate, as I always am when returning home from a fun trip.  But what cheered me up somewhat was discovering that the book about Elizabeth II I'd requested was now available from my library.

I spent those first few days back from Europe engrossed in this book.  The story flows so well, it reads like a novel.  It's full of details and information, lots of dates, places and names, but never feels like a dull history lesson. 

This book presents the Queen as an interesting and likable person, with a dry sense of humor and a strong sense of purpose. She's devoted to her job, sometimes at the expense of her personal life, but without regret. 

I already liked the Queen, but reading this book caused me to gain even more respect for her.  I had no idea how involved she was in the government.  Granted, she doesn't have a lot of power, but she still plays an important role.  I loved the part when she's informed that Margaret Thatcher is the new prime minister.  She's told something along the lines of, "Isn't that odd, having a woman in power?"  And she's like, "Odd, how do you mean?" (Paraphrasing, it's been a while since I read the book and don't remember the exact wording.)  But the person is like, "Yeah, strange to have a woman running the country."  You just know the Queen is thinking, "You idiot, you do realize you're talking to a woman who rules a country and commonwealth?"

I really liked this book and would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the Queen.

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