Category > Biography

Elizabeth the Queen

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Elizabeth the Queen, Sally Bedell-Smith, book reviewElizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell-Smith was one of the many books about the monarchy which was reduced in the Kindle Jubilee sale earlier this. Unsurprisingly, it is a biography of Queen Elizabeth II, covering her childhood up to almost the present, ending in 2011 as she approached her Diamond Jubilee year in 2012.

As an American, Bedell-Smith is immediately different to the British biographers I have previously read. She could perhaps be able to take an “outsiders” view of the Queen and the monarchy, not being a subject of the Queen, but in all honesty this is not an angle which she explores. Her style is generally respectful, and she seems to be one of the many Americans who love the British royal family, despite being proud of being a republic themselves.


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Decoding Rahul Gandhi

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Decoding Rahul Gandhi by Aarthi RamachandranThe question is, who is Rahul Gandhi and what is he doing in the world of Indian politics? Apart from being Indira Gandhi’s grandson and Rajiv Gandhi’s heir that is. Aarthi Ramachandran has written the second book that attempts to chalk out Rahul Gandhi’s political strategies – the first by Jatin Gandhi and Veenu Sandhu disappeared without a trace.

In its pages he comes across as a modern young man who applies management principles from The Toyota Way in an attempt to create a corporate stance where politics is concerned. But despite everything he seems to remain a mystery or an amateur – though the whole of India is aware that he is being groomed for the top job.


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The End of Your Life Book Club

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The End of Your Life Book Club,  Will Schwalbe, book reviewSitting at the hospital waiting for his mother to complete her chemotherapy session, Will Schwalbe asked her what she was reading. Hours and hours of poison dripping into her arm could be made bearable by reading books and talking about them. Will and his mother, Mary Anne, formed their own two person ‘book club’ and Will called it The End of Your Life Book Club. With a diagnosis of Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer (there is no stage 5) both knew that Mary Anne’s days were numbered but there were still so many great books to be read for the first time or old favourites to be read again. Metastasised pancreatic cancer comes with a short shelf life – typically as little as 3 to 6 months, optimistically, no more than a couple of years.


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Young Prince Philip

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Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life, Philip Eade, book reviewWhile Queen Elizabeth II may be something of an enigma, a very private person who does not reveal her personal feelings, her husband Prince Philip is often perceived as easier to understand, given that he often appears to speak his mind. However, many biographies of him, or indeed the Queen, are in agreement that he is not as straightforward as he seems, that there is more to him than the occasional blunt remark might indicate. Philip Eade’s Young Prince Philip aims to shed some light on the foundations of his character, in a biography of his early years, covering birth up to the 1950s-60s. While very grateful to sources at the Palace, Eade is at pains to point out in his introduction that this biography is not authorised or approved.

Born in 1921, Prince Philip was the only son of Prince Andrea of Greece, and his wife, Princess Alice, granddaughter of Queen Victoria.


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The Diamond Queen

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The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People, Andrew Marr, book reviewWith the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II taking place this year, over the last year or so there have been a lot of books published about her life and reign, as well as on her family. There are bound to be a lot of rather trashy attempts to “tell all” in amongst this, but it can also be assumed there will be a few gems as well. But how to tell the difference and be sure you are buying a quality book?

The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People has a couple of things going for it before you even begin reading. Its author is Andrew Marr, a respected journalist with a few other well received history books under his belt.


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George VI

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George VI (Viking), Sarah Bradford, book reviewSarah Bradford’s biography of George VI deals with a king who faced a great deal of adversity in his short reign. The second son of George V, he ascended to the throne on the abdication of his older brother, Edward VIII, who chose marriage to Wallis Simpson over remaining as king. George VI not only had to deal with the upheaval and upset of the abdication and its aftermath, but he saw his country through the Second World War, the strain of which affected his health, leading to his death at only 56.

Known as Prince Albert prior to acceding to the throne, he was Duke of York and married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, better known to most of us as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, as she became on his death.


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Singing the Life

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Singing the Life, Elizabeth Bryan, book reviewElizabeth Bryan is a doctor, an expert in multiple births who worked with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and published books on twins and triplets. As you’d expect with a background like that she knows a lot about genetics but in the case of her and her direct family, a single gene was the root of a devastating health time bomb. Elizabeth Bryan’s family is cursed with the notorious BRCA1 gene which makes carriers susceptible to cancer – especially breast and ovarian cancers. Singing the Life is Bryan’s account of her family and how they lived and sometimes lost their lives with the threat of cancer hanging over them.

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to know that your fate in life could well be an early and painful death.


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A Brief History of the Private Life of Elizabeth II

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A Brief History of the Private Life of Elizabeth II by Michael Paterson, book review“Never judge a book by its cover” goes the old saying. Yet that is exactly what I did when I spotted A Brief History of the Private Life of Elizabeth II on Amazon. With a cover picture of a carefree, laughing and relaxed Queen Elizabeth II, on the deck of Britannia and wearing a bright summery blouse, it was such a lovely picture that I immediately wanted to read the book.

The main clue is in the title. With a precursor like “A Brief History”, Michael Paterson’s book was never going to be a lengthy one. Weighing in at something over 200 pages in the print version, it is by its very nature a concise history – to the point, factual (or at least presented as factual), and neatly chronological. Opening in the 1920s, it takes us right up to the present day, as the Queen was approaching her Diamond Jubilee.


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That Woman

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That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor - Anne Sebba, book reviewThat Woman by Anne Sebba is a biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, wife of the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, and blamed for his decision to abdicate in 1936. Hated by the royal family, particularly Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and mocked by society, history has painted her as a manipulative and cunning woman, allegedly using tricks learnt in Chinese brothels to exert her hold on the King.

Born Bessiewallis Warfield in Baltimore in the late nineteenth century, she was on her second marriage by the time she met the then Prince of Wales. Her first marriage was as a naval wife and ended in divorce, she spent time in China before moving to England and marrying Ernest Simpson, who offered her stability.


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A Tale of Two Indians

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A Tale of Two Indians - Maharshi Patel, book reviewMaharshi Patel is a well-to-do student attending a top US university and spoilt by his successful oncologist father and his doting mother. He is arrogant, selfish and self-indulgent. He likes fast cars and expensive watches not because they’re fast or they tell the time better but because they tell everyone around him just how wonderful his life is. There’s no point being a success if the world can’t SEE how fabulous your life is, after all. When a series of deaths amongst family and friends sends his privileged lifestyle off its axis, Maharshi has a breakdown, fails at his studies and his father threatens to cut him off financially. It’s taken him a while but the realisation dawns that he can’t take his life of privilege for granted. In search of an escape from the life that’s spiralling out of control, he heads to India to spend time with his paternal grandfather in search of truths about himself, his father and his father’s father.


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The Lady in the Tower

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The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, book review The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir bears the subtitle “The Fall of Anne Boleyn”, which tells you just about everything you need to know about the book. Assuming you know Alison Weir is a historian, you will then be able to surmise that this is a historical study of the last months and days of the life of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIIIs second queen.

Henry VIII became infatuated with Anne while he was still married to Katherine of Aragon. For six long years she kept him obsessed with her, refusing to sleep with him until they were married. Finally he broke with Rome in order to take over as Supreme Head of the Church of England, and therefore set Katherine aside and marry Anne.


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Tolstoy

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Tolstoy,  A. N. Wilson, book reviewRepackaged and with a new foreword by the author, A.N. Wilson’s epic biography of Tolstoy is a welcome re-publication. There have been countless works devoted to the Russian author, a man whose colourful life and complex beliefs make for a thoroughly thrilling and entertaining biographical work, but this one stands out thanks to Wilson’s engaging style which presents key periods of Tolstoy’s life against the backdrop of nineteenth century Russia, showing how the prevailing ideas and politics influenced his thinking.

As an introduction to Tolstoy for readers who are new to the subject, this is an invaluable volume; Wilson covers all of the novels as well as Tolstoy’s most important non-fiction writing, and such content, in combination with a selective but nonetheless detailed biography, is illuminating without alienating the newcomer.


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