Friday, August 21, 2020

Audio Book Review - Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith

Genre: Audio Book/Biography
Pub. Date: January 10, 2012
Publisher: Random House Audio
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Perfect for fans of The Crown, this magisterial biography of Queen Elizabeth II is a close-up view of the woman we’ve known only from a distance—and a captivating window into the last great monarchy.  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.

Royal lovers as well as fans of The Crown will especially love this lengthy look into Queen Elizabeth's life. From her childhood where her father was unexpectedly thrusted onto the throne to more recent times, Smith really dives into every aspect of her life.  The biography goes in chronological order and it gives the perfect amount of background for an American reader who might not be up to snuff on British history.  It details her relationship with Philip, her interactions with various prime ministers, her role as a mother, and of course, her most important role as Queen.  It follows her throughout history and one thing always seems to remain-- despite all the changes, despite all the different prime ministers and the events in history, both good and bad, Queen Elizabeth II has been a constant positive presence.  Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch is a festinating, albeit lengthy at times, audio book for true fans of the monarchy.

It's pretty hard to cover all the various points in history that this biography covers, but there's a lot. It starts with Elizabeth at a young age studying with her nanny and spending time with her sister to her first interactions with Philip. There's also her work with the army during WWII, which was impressive. The biography then continues through to her wedding, the birth of her children, and so on.  Throughout the years she has to work with various different prime ministers, Winston Churchill being the most fascinating, and she had to deal with different political climates. There's always the issue of her sister, visiting American presidents, or upsetting events in British history.  She always carried herself with such grace and dignity.  I loved the little details Smith includes about her fashion choices, her love of horses, and her bravery she exhibited in various situations.  Some occurrences in her life were seriously stranger than fiction, such as the person who broke into her room in the palace.  Most people would have a conniption, but the Queen decided to have a conversation with him and listen to him. I love it! 

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch was also a great review of British history as it follows the queen for fifty years. Throughout that time, there were various political events or different celebrations, such as the Diamond Jubilee and Smith does a good job with keeping Americans informed regarding the significance and the requirements of the British royalty on such events.  I also loved following along with her on her various tours and what she gleaned from them.  

Philip obviously played a big role in Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch and some of his outlandish comments had me laughing out loud.  It definitely made me appreciate his non-conformist attitude much more than I did before even though some of his comments weren't political correct. I didn't realize how often he was getting intro trouble with the press. I also really appreciated how Smith humanized the Queen Elizabeth as much more than a queen: a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a lover of dogs and horses. This biography really brought her to life and made me appreciate her so much more than I already did.  

My only issue with Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch was Smith's portrayal of Princess Diana. I didn't always appreciate how she was framing her and sort of making Charles out to be more of a victim than I would have liked.  Whether Diana struggled with mental health or not, she was much more than just an unstable royal. I wish Smith would have covered a bit more about her and in a more positive way.  However, I guess she isn't the start of this show though.

So, if you love all things Royal give Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch a try. It was a nice way to brush up on British history and learn more about a person I admire greatly.  Due to our current political climate here in America, it was a nice reminder of how true leaders can act with respect and grace.  Are you a fan of Queen Elizabeth II? Do you enjoy biographical audio books? Let me know in the comments.


  1. I'm a huge fan of Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family in general - it's just so different from what we have here that it's fascinating to me! You don't see a lot of monarchs that have reigned as long as she has, so it would be hard to cover her entire life in great detail, but it sounds like the author did a great job.

    1. Yes! I completely agree. I think you'd like this one, Angela. Thanks for visiting!


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