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The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II

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"There will be no better biography of Elizabeth II as a figure of state until her official one appears--and perhaps not even then." -- The Independent "One of the many merits of Ben Pimlott's superbly judicious biography of Elizabeth II is that it understands this connection between monarchy and masses, and carefully evokes its political importance." -- The New York T "There will be no better biography of Elizabeth II as a figure of state until her official one appears--and perhaps not even then." -- The Independent "One of the many merits of Ben Pimlott's superbly judicious biography of Elizabeth II is that it understands this connection between monarchy and masses, and carefully evokes its political importance." -- The New York Times Book Review "The best all-around study of the Queen so far, showing understanding as well as amused irony." -- Sunday Telegraph Written by Ben Pimlott, considered Britain's most respected political biographer, The Queen brings us the most authentic life yet of the reigning monarch. For the first time, Buckingham Place opened its doors and those closest to the queen provided compelling new information into Elizabeth's life and reign. New sources include the unpublished diaries of Jock Colville, public secretary to both Churchill and Elizabeth, as well as interviews with Princess Margaret, Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Runcie, and longtime private secretary Lord Charteris.


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"There will be no better biography of Elizabeth II as a figure of state until her official one appears--and perhaps not even then." -- The Independent "One of the many merits of Ben Pimlott's superbly judicious biography of Elizabeth II is that it understands this connection between monarchy and masses, and carefully evokes its political importance." -- The New York T "There will be no better biography of Elizabeth II as a figure of state until her official one appears--and perhaps not even then." -- The Independent "One of the many merits of Ben Pimlott's superbly judicious biography of Elizabeth II is that it understands this connection between monarchy and masses, and carefully evokes its political importance." -- The New York Times Book Review "The best all-around study of the Queen so far, showing understanding as well as amused irony." -- Sunday Telegraph Written by Ben Pimlott, considered Britain's most respected political biographer, The Queen brings us the most authentic life yet of the reigning monarch. For the first time, Buckingham Place opened its doors and those closest to the queen provided compelling new information into Elizabeth's life and reign. New sources include the unpublished diaries of Jock Colville, public secretary to both Churchill and Elizabeth, as well as interviews with Princess Margaret, Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Runcie, and longtime private secretary Lord Charteris.

30 review for The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II

  1. 4 out of 5

    John Anthony

    A massive tome but extremely readable. Ben Pimlott is a political historian, particularly of the Left, and so this seemed an enticing combination to me. It is very well researched and balanced. Whilst quite revealing, EIIR remains an enigma - the secret of royal success I guess. We're left in no doubt that Elizabeth is enigmatic when Pimlott has her going off duty, closing the door behind her and becoming “herself” again. It made me think of the line in the Pistols' “God Save the Queen” (which wa A massive tome but extremely readable. Ben Pimlott is a political historian, particularly of the Left, and so this seemed an enticing combination to me. It is very well researched and balanced. Whilst quite revealing, EIIR remains an enigma - the secret of royal success I guess. We're left in no doubt that Elizabeth is enigmatic when Pimlott has her going off duty, closing the door behind her and becoming “herself” again. It made me think of the line in the Pistols' “God Save the Queen” (which was top, or near enough, of the charts at the time of her Silver Jubilee in 1977) ie “our figurehead is not what she seems”. Not surprisingly, the book explores in some detail her relationship with the various Prime Ministers. Her relationship with her first, Churchill, is compared with that between the teenage Queen Victoria and Melbourne. Whilst she had a good relationship with wily old Macmillan, who appeared to idolise her, he was not above using her and her position in his own interests; quite fatally so, Pimlott suggests, in the choice of 'Super Mac' 's successor. That choice was Alec Douglas-Home, who happened to be the Queen's good friend. She misjudged the situation (the PM and the 'Palace' contributing massively to the misjudgement, no doubt) and it spelt the end, effectively, of the constitutional role of the monarchy in the choice of a new prime minister to succeed the old one. Relationships between monarch and prime minister appear easier with some of the Labour PMs than Tory ones (eg Heath and Thatcher) but it's hard to believe that this indicates left wing tendencies on her part! Her education, such as it was, appears to have been geared to ensuring that she didn't turn out to be a blue stocking; as such it would appear to have been successful. Her grandmother, Queen Mary probably played a major part in her education, although the Queen emerged less interested in the arts perhaps than Queen Mary. Elizabeth II inherited her father's straight forward/matter of factness (I seem to recall Alan Bennett, who wrote the screen play “A Question of Attribution” having her say : “I like a good fact”). A disciplined person, efficient at clearing paperwork, she prefers a quiet, ordered life and hates confrontation whether in politics or in family relationships. This must have made for a very interesting relationship over the years with her husband who seems to have made confrontation his speciality! At the end of this tome we are left with the Elizabeth the enigma : the rather wooden public performance and the witty, garrulous, even mischievous one for private consumption. Queen Mary's lessons in keeping the royal upper lip stiff in public have been successful. Ben Pimlott seems to have quite a lot of time and respect for the Queen.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Misti Hooper

    An terrific and mostly exciting book about an outstanding person.

  3. 5 out of 5

    tiasreads

    This book was a mixed bag for me, alternating between compulsively readable and an utter slog. The personal history of the queen was meant to be the framework of this combination modern British history/contemplation of the monarchy/study of twentieth century British politics. Yet too often the personal got drowned by a sea of political and social context, not to mention the author's personal interpretation of all the above. Instead of providing the thematic thread of humanity, HRH came across as This book was a mixed bag for me, alternating between compulsively readable and an utter slog. The personal history of the queen was meant to be the framework of this combination modern British history/contemplation of the monarchy/study of twentieth century British politics. Yet too often the personal got drowned by a sea of political and social context, not to mention the author's personal interpretation of all the above. Instead of providing the thematic thread of humanity, HRH came across as a paper doll, flat and lifeless. Despite the many good points of this book, I had three major problems which kept me from enjoying it more and giving it a much higher rating. First, the author on occasion displayed a near-Soviet level of sticking to the party line. Certain major events were passed over lightly (exactly as the Palace wished them to be), most notably the breezy, barely-ruffled-the-waters, hardly-worth-mentioning treatment given The Abdication. Second, the author's tendency to expound on a thought to the point of insensibility. Having made the point, he kept bring it up throughout the book, re-explaining it each time. I, for example, immediately understood the problems with the Civil List and the queen not disclosing her personal wealth; I didn't require an explanation every time it was brought up. And it was brought up many times. (Thanks for that, Parliament.) The final problem I had with this book was the unholy, saccharine fatuousness that was Chapter 26, regarding the aftermath of Princess Diana's death. Princess Charlotte Augusta? Royal touching? I still suspect that someone else wrote that chapter, perhaps a teenaged niece of the author's. All in all, there are better biographies and political histories that aren't mixed with biographies. I'd recommend you find one of those.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Harris

    The Queen by Ben Pimlott is a book that I have consulted for research on numerous occasions and I recently reread it in preparation for an article that I am writing about the Queen in Canada. The book does an excellent job of presenting how the Queen's image has evolved since her childhood - the combination of grandeur and royal tradition with evidence of an "ordinary" life behind palace walls that allows the public to relate to the royal family. There is also excellent material about the Queen' The Queen by Ben Pimlott is a book that I have consulted for research on numerous occasions and I recently reread it in preparation for an article that I am writing about the Queen in Canada. The book does an excellent job of presenting how the Queen's image has evolved since her childhood - the combination of grandeur and royal tradition with evidence of an "ordinary" life behind palace walls that allows the public to relate to the royal family. There is also excellent material about the Queen's rapport with her British Prime Ministers over the decades and the different approaches these political figures have adopted to their weekly meetings with the monarch. The Commonwealth is not given as much attention - Philip Murphy's Monarchy and the End of Empire is a better resource for the Queen's role as Head of the Commonwealth - and the book is now outdated as it ends just before the deaths of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother in 2002. Nevertheless, the Queen is one of the strongest biographies of the Queen as Pimlott takes her political role and public image seriously and provides in depth analysis of her evolving role over the course of the twentieth century.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gillian Dance

    This book is not easy reading, that's why I gave it four stars instead of five! It is however a must-read if you are genuinely interested in the subject matter. This book is over 700 pages long and those are 'wordy' pages. You will get all sides of the story from this book, conflicting views from different party politicians, royal writers from over the centuries, broadsheet and tabloid journalists... this book is not biased to any particular opinion, monarchists and republicans alike will find i This book is not easy reading, that's why I gave it four stars instead of five! It is however a must-read if you are genuinely interested in the subject matter. This book is over 700 pages long and those are 'wordy' pages. You will get all sides of the story from this book, conflicting views from different party politicians, royal writers from over the centuries, broadsheet and tabloid journalists... this book is not biased to any particular opinion, monarchists and republicans alike will find it an informative read. Many beautiful pictures are included. A thorough biography, expertly written.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    A bit heavy on the political relationships, I found it a bit slogging at times. Because self- proclaimed as a biography I expected more on her and family relationships and events but learned a great deal about the historical/political relationships and the how her role changed through the years.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Twice as long as it should have been

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Kester

    This gives the history of Queen Elizabeth's reign only up to 1997. It's a very sympathetic portrait of a queen who has been so criticized and lampooned by the press along with her family since my generation can remember. The book goes into great detail about how the monarchy's relationship with the press has changed since Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 and how the press began to make life so difficult for certain members of the royal family. One is left with a picture of the queen as a pretty, This gives the history of Queen Elizabeth's reign only up to 1997. It's a very sympathetic portrait of a queen who has been so criticized and lampooned by the press along with her family since my generation can remember. The book goes into great detail about how the monarchy's relationship with the press has changed since Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 and how the press began to make life so difficult for certain members of the royal family. One is left with a picture of the queen as a pretty, serious-minded young girl who married a man she loved and had four children with him and proved to be a good, if somewhat distant mother, all the while having to carry the weight of being queen of the commonwealth. The book can be a little plodding at times. I found the first part of her life to be the most interesting (perhaps, because being in my twenties, I was only familiar with the image of an older queen). It goes into great detail about her and Margaret Thatcher's mutual aversion to each other, but hardly speaks at all about her relationship with her husband or how she was as a mother to her children. It also goes into great detail about things I found rather insignificant- such as the long debate about whether or not to keep her picture on the postage stamp in the U.K. Surely, these people have something better to think about. The biography shows her to be a simple and not very exceptional person. She doesn't take much interest in things like art and literature. She likes the outdoors, her horses and dogs and one gets the sense that had this position not been thrust upon her, she wouldn't be someone who would be of much interest to people, though she was better prepared for it than her father. I wanted the book to go into greater detail about her character and ideas. So much of how I've always seen her portrayed was as a cold, out-of-touch, dour, dull woman. This book shows her to be charming and kind if a bit like a relic from another time. In a way, she is dull because she doesn't want to court controversy and reveals very little about herself, but to be pilloried by the press is as unfair as the idolization of Princess Diana was too much. This is a fair portrait of an average woman who has led a very privileged life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ilka

    A very tasteful, political biography that focuses on the constitutional role of the monarchy, the changing relationship between monarchy and government during the reign of Elizabeth II and the changing nature of Empire and Commonwealth and what this meant for the monarchy and the Queen. I was very pleasantly surprised that any personal details and royal scandals are almost exclusively discussed in terms of the changing way the press treated the monarchy and the evolution in the way the monarchy A very tasteful, political biography that focuses on the constitutional role of the monarchy, the changing relationship between monarchy and government during the reign of Elizabeth II and the changing nature of Empire and Commonwealth and what this meant for the monarchy and the Queen. I was very pleasantly surprised that any personal details and royal scandals are almost exclusively discussed in terms of the changing way the press treated the monarchy and the evolution in the way the monarchy presented itself to the public. This is not a book that discusses scandal simply for the sake of scandal, but always to make a broader point. I learned a lot about British politics and the British system of government that I didn't know before. The book is, of course, nearly twenty years old and there have been more recent developments that it doesn't cover, but it is by no means too old to still be read and enjoyed today. The writing never got bogged down by too many repetitions or too many details and Pimlott's prose made for a great reading experience.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Megan S

    I started out thinking this was just going to be the biography pf one woman who, by remarkable coincidence and high birth, came to rule the end of an Empire and is now the longest ruling British monarch. However, Pimlott makes this book so much more than that. This book is about the Queen, yes. But, it is also about the way in whihc she is the product of literary and media tropes and never without their framing influence in the public eye. It is also about the many changes that faced a nation in I started out thinking this was just going to be the biography pf one woman who, by remarkable coincidence and high birth, came to rule the end of an Empire and is now the longest ruling British monarch. However, Pimlott makes this book so much more than that. This book is about the Queen, yes. But, it is also about the way in whihc she is the product of literary and media tropes and never without their framing influence in the public eye. It is also about the many changes that faced a nation in flux over the last century. A good deal of focus is given to the politics, social crises, cultural attitudes, and prime ministers that change over this time. Pimlott's The Queen is as much about the changing nature of the United Kingdom and her Commonwealth affiliates as it is about Elizabeth herself. The woman at the center of this masterful biography is the focal point around which modern histroy is shown.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    This book is fantastic. It connects Queen Elizabeth to the political place of the Monarchy in Britain as it has evolved, it highlights the growth and her role in the Commonwealth and through this Pimlott is able to shed light on Elizabeth's elusive personality. It's well-worth the read and gave me a greater respect for the Monarchy's role in Britain and Queen Elizabeth's political role. I've added this to my favourites shelf because even though it can be dry at times, it definitely gave me a much This book is fantastic. It connects Queen Elizabeth to the political place of the Monarchy in Britain as it has evolved, it highlights the growth and her role in the Commonwealth and through this Pimlott is able to shed light on Elizabeth's elusive personality. It's well-worth the read and gave me a greater respect for the Monarchy's role in Britain and Queen Elizabeth's political role. I've added this to my favourites shelf because even though it can be dry at times, it definitely gave me a much greater appreciation for the job that Elizabeth Windsor does, her importance to Britain and even some arguments for why a monarchy might be important.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    One of the best biographies I've read in the past decade. A fascinating look at Her Majesty's reign. One of its most enjoyable aspects is that it examines Queen Elizabeth the monarch, the constitutional challenges she's had to face and adapt to, her unbending adherence to duty and the incredible transformations the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth have gone through since 1952. Highly recommend it!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Velvet

    I picked this book up for .50 cents at my local library book sale a few months ago - I started reading it recently (before the royal wedding) and so far...it is very good. An interesting biography/glimpse into the past of Elizabeth's childhood, coronation and wedding. Will update when finished reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I originally started this book when I had nothing else to read and did not expect to get into it. Much better than I originally thought, but I don't have a good gasp of post WW2 British history. I found myself turning to other books to read instead and eventually gave up before I had finished half of it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I did like this, although at times it got bogged down with political detail, which is always a way of ensuring that I will start to switch off. I unfortunatly ran out of time in redaing this book, so did not finish, but if you are intrested in royalty, this would be a intresting book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Iris Windmeijer

    A really interesting biography that I've read for school. There was so much more than meets the eye about Queen Elizabeth II.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    An absorbing in-depth look at the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II, and how the world changed over the 20th century.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Terry Gilbert

    Well-researched bio of reigning monarch from centre left academic.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Devi

    I read this book a few years ago and enjoyed it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Nowhere near as extensive as the recent books by Andrew Marr and Robert Hardman. Worth re-reading though for comparison.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Although I really wanted to read this it was a book that was too fact filled for me. I need to find my first "can't put it down" book of 2012. Wish me luck!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carl D. Bays

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Gay

  24. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

  25. 4 out of 5

    James

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Cramer

  27. 5 out of 5

    cyrise Brown

  28. 5 out of 5

    Barb Bailey

  29. 4 out of 5

    Melody

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Marco

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