3 biographies about the queen celebrating a Diamond Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth II is both a modern monarch – the poor thing even had to sit through a palace presentation on Twitter and Facebook – and an old-school royal who’s committed to a certain regal reserve. She rarely has anything notable to do or say and all those gossipy palace insiders never seem to get close enough to learn anything about her at all. Yet we all feel as if we know this 80-something dog lover who can boast of fortitude and legs strong enough to prevent those giant mystery purses from toppling her over. On the eve of her Diamond Jubilee marking 60 years on the throne, three new biographies of Elizabeth try to flesh out our portrait of one of the longest-reigning monarchs in history.

Akira Suemori/Reuters

1. 'The Real Elizabeth' by Andrew Marr

The Real Elizabeth by British journalist Andrew Marr is perceptive, wryly written, and a delight to read. People “often bubble about [the queen's] wit and insight – and then tell you only what they said to her,” Marr writes. “Clever.”

Thankfully, she can’t hide everything. Marr manages to offer a few delicious stories about the queen, like the time Prince Philip scurried out of a chalet doorway, followed by a pair of airborne tennis shoes and a tennis racquet, as a startled documentary film crew watched. The filmmaker, no fool he, wisely exposed the film.   

Marr also provides vivid stories about other royal personalities, from the troubled Princess Diana to grumpy ol’ Prince Philip, the fun-loving queen mother, and the regal Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s grandmother, who once disagreed with a book’s description of herself as easily bored: “As a matter of fact,” she sniffed in her own handwriting, “The Queen is never bored.”

Marr’s insight sets him apart, such as when he captures Elizabeth’s poise and “eerie” phrasing during a radio broadcast on her 21st birthday: “[I]t is as if we are witnessing a young woman making herself into some kind of human sacrifice.”

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