Princess Diana's tragic death transported the aloof mother-in-law (who took too long to say she was sorry) to the center of worldwide attention. Following the frenzy of allegations about Queen Elizabeth's behavior, it is therapeutic to have British historian Ben Pimlott's levelheaded study of both the Queen—herself once the world's shining princess—and the family business she has directed for 45 years.
Charting the deterioration of the monarchy from the revered institution of the '20s to the dysfunctional family of the '90s, Pimlott (a professor of politics and contemporary history at the University of London) also celebrates the amazing resilience of the Queen. Elizabeth emerges as the heroic embodiment of dutiful dullness, steadfastly fulfilling her royal obligations in the midst of the chaos around her. Appropriately, for someone who is more at home with horses than people, she stresses, "You can do a lot if you are properly trained—and I hope I have been." As Pimlott observes, "She speaks of herself not as the owner of the Royal Stables, but as the occupant of one of the stalls."
While unflappable endurance is not the sexiest of virtues, neither is it the least of them, and The Queen helps us appreciate the capacities as well as the limitations of a woman who, whatever else happens, just keeps on going on. (Wiley, $30)