The second-longest reigning British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II has always remained an elusive figure, a monumental accomplishment given the media attention focused upon her family. In her new book, Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch (Random House, 2012), Sally Bedell Smith peels back the layers of mystique to reveal the very shy woman who is the current Queen. It isn’t so much a dismantling as a reevaluation, an effort to appreciate a figure who— though part of an institution that is seen by some as vestigial— is nonetheless deeply impressive and truly beloved.
Smith interviewed over 200 people, 160 of whom are on the record as the queen’s relatives and friends—a fact that suggests that the 40 individuals who opted for anonymity are even grander higher ups. Though the book is not “authorized,” it carries significant clout. Buckingham Palace also offered Smith limited access to the Queen, so the author could see her subject in action and play witness to her quiet charm. That’s the biggest stamp of approval for which a royal writer can hope.
Like many royal biographies, Elizabeth the Queen is filled with small, gossipy tidbits. We learn what the Queen eats for breakfast and what she carries in her ubiquitous handbag. But Smith also offers substantive insight into the less examined areas of the queen’s life, in particular her religious faith, her life pre-ascension and her relationship with the Queen Mother. The end result is a lively portrait of a hard-working woman who, in her own way, has represented “a new Elizabethan age.”