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The first independent biography of Thailand’s monarch, whose image as a benign Buddhist god-king masks one of the world’s most politically powerful thrones Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and at the time of his death, in October 2016, was the world’s longest serving monarch. The King Nev The first independent biography of Thailand’s monarch, whose image as a benign Buddhist god-king masks one of the world’s most politically powerful thrones Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and at the time of his death, in October 2016, was the world’s longest serving monarch. The King Never Smiles, the first independent biography of Thailand's monarch, tells the unexpected story of Bhumibol's life and sixty-year rule—how a Western-raised boy came to be seen by his people as a living Buddha, and how a king widely seen as beneficent and apolitical could in fact be so deeply political and autocratic. Paul Handley provides an extensively researched, factual account of the king’s youth and personal development, ascent to the throne, skillful political maneuverings, and attempt to shape Thailand as a Buddhist kingdom. Handley takes full note of Bhumibol's achievements in art, in sports and jazz, and he credits the king's lifelong dedication to rural development and the livelihoods of his poorest subjects. But, looking beyond the widely accepted image of the king as egalitarian and virtuous, Handley portrays an anti-democratic monarch who, together with allies in big business and the corrupt Thai military, has protected a centuries-old, barely modified feudal dynasty. When at nineteen Bhumibol assumed the throne, the Thai monarchy had been stripped of power and prestige. Over the ensuing decades, Bhumibol became the paramount political actor in the kingdom, silencing critics while winning the hearts and minds of his people. The book details this process and depicts Thailand’s unique constitutional monarch—his life, his thinking, and his ruling philosophy.


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The first independent biography of Thailand’s monarch, whose image as a benign Buddhist god-king masks one of the world’s most politically powerful thrones Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and at the time of his death, in October 2016, was the world’s longest serving monarch. The King Nev The first independent biography of Thailand’s monarch, whose image as a benign Buddhist god-king masks one of the world’s most politically powerful thrones Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and at the time of his death, in October 2016, was the world’s longest serving monarch. The King Never Smiles, the first independent biography of Thailand's monarch, tells the unexpected story of Bhumibol's life and sixty-year rule—how a Western-raised boy came to be seen by his people as a living Buddha, and how a king widely seen as beneficent and apolitical could in fact be so deeply political and autocratic. Paul Handley provides an extensively researched, factual account of the king’s youth and personal development, ascent to the throne, skillful political maneuverings, and attempt to shape Thailand as a Buddhist kingdom. Handley takes full note of Bhumibol's achievements in art, in sports and jazz, and he credits the king's lifelong dedication to rural development and the livelihoods of his poorest subjects. But, looking beyond the widely accepted image of the king as egalitarian and virtuous, Handley portrays an anti-democratic monarch who, together with allies in big business and the corrupt Thai military, has protected a centuries-old, barely modified feudal dynasty. When at nineteen Bhumibol assumed the throne, the Thai monarchy had been stripped of power and prestige. Over the ensuing decades, Bhumibol became the paramount political actor in the kingdom, silencing critics while winning the hearts and minds of his people. The book details this process and depicts Thailand’s unique constitutional monarch—his life, his thinking, and his ruling philosophy.

30 review for The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej

  1. 4 out of 5

    martin

    In some ways this feels like 3 books: First we have a fairly complex and scholarly introduction to the semi-religious concepts of the Devaraja and the Dhammaraja. Not easy going but if you find it difficult read the next few chapters and then come back to it as you'll find it easier once you see the real life examples Second there is the description of the efforts of a few powerful and ambitious aristocrats in the Court to rebuild the power and prestige of the monarchy by making it more relevant In some ways this feels like 3 books: First we have a fairly complex and scholarly introduction to the semi-religious concepts of the Devaraja and the Dhammaraja. Not easy going but if you find it difficult read the next few chapters and then come back to it as you'll find it easier once you see the real life examples Second there is the description of the efforts of a few powerful and ambitious aristocrats in the Court to rebuild the power and prestige of the monarchy by making it more relevant to the modern world and the real needs and concerns of the Thai people. This then moves smoothly into the period where the King, undeniably a good and caring man, grows into and becomes the Dhammaraja ideal. Finally, the bit all Thai readers have been waiting for, Handley dishes a little dirt about the scandals and suspected scandals surrounding the family. This bit gets a wee bit tedious after a while even if it does help demonstrate some aspects of the conscious controlled attempt to create and maintain the strong monarchy Right now, with Thaksin on everyone's minds (and the King's possible departure a constant concern for many), this book is highly topical. Will the Dhammaraja monarchy survive the succession - especially with ambitious and apparently unscrupulous politicians in the background trying to take on the mantle of the "one who really cares" and further their own aims and objectives? My one criticism is that Handley sometimes tries a little too hard to make the facts fit the theory rather than adapting the theory to the facts. He is most uncomfortable, it seems to me, when he has to reconcile the King's undeniably genuine care and concern about his people with the book's underlying idea that the whole Dhammaraja idea was little more than a political power ploy dreamed up and executed by a few very able and intelligent aristocrats. The King believes he has the duty to be the Dhammaraja - he is not playing a puppet role. It's often interesting to discuss this book (gently) with Thai friends. Many or most educated Thais accept unquestioningly the standard schoolbook line that the original overthrow of the absolute monarchy was in fact a move by the then King to modernise the system and bring in democracy. The idea that the role of the modern monarchy might have been somehow manufactured is a new one for them.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This was a strange one-- I wanted to understand what was happening in Thailand a little better, and my friend Sean suggested this, saying he'd heard it was pretty good. And it is good, though I think it also has its limits, both for what I wanted and in other contexts. The book, taken broadly, is more or less a supplementary history of Thailand, partially since 1932, but mostly from 1947, a history that aims to integrate the role of the monarchy in terms of its influence on the political life of This was a strange one-- I wanted to understand what was happening in Thailand a little better, and my friend Sean suggested this, saying he'd heard it was pretty good. And it is good, though I think it also has its limits, both for what I wanted and in other contexts. The book, taken broadly, is more or less a supplementary history of Thailand, partially since 1932, but mostly from 1947, a history that aims to integrate the role of the monarchy in terms of its influence on the political life of the state, an influence that till now has been underrepresented. That said, it's not the entire history of Thailand, or not altogether-- so, as an outsider to that history, I felt like there was a lot going on here that I only partially understood. There were lots of names, and the way some of them dropped in and out of the story made me suspect I'd get it better if I also knew the authorized version of Thai history, the one where the King's influence has been scrubbed away. The other problem reveals more my own reading tastes, and not necessarily anything wrong with the book-- but the personality of the King doesn't ever really come across here, at least not in the sense I think of biographies bringing across that understanding. The book is perilously free of revealing anecdotes that show the complexity of the subject in a flash of insight.... Instead, the book mostly shows you how the King was in the room when you thought he wasn't in a photograph of a well-remembered event. The contribution is to show the King's role in Thai history much more than it is to tell you something new about the King as man. As a political actor, I think this is, on the one hand, a pretty developed exploration of the King's role, and also a bit of a hatchet job. If I knew Thai history, that hatchet job might make more sense-- because I'd need a tonic to the generally laudatory terms under which Bhumibol is discussed. But since I don't know that story, I really only learn here how the King was timid, then craven, and then exploitative of his people. It's a rough read in that sense. But that probably reveals my limits as an audience for this book, and might not really speak of the merit of this book when taken in the context of other Thai histories. This is a thoughtful, serious, and incredibly well-researched book. But it's not a gossipy, or even especially insightful biography, if you're looking for psychological complexity, or a real sense of who Bhumibol is away from the throne.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Paul Handley presents a fairly even analysis... a bit skewed by confirmation bias, but generally fair. The title is misleading; it's not a biography of King Bhumibol so much as an analysis of the institution of the modern monarchy, which is inevitably bound up with Bhumibol, but separate. Handley's argument is at its strongest when he's drawing the devastating connections between Bhumibol and the 1976 Thammasat University massacre. Meanwhile, he's at his weakest when he's trying to articulate th Paul Handley presents a fairly even analysis... a bit skewed by confirmation bias, but generally fair. The title is misleading; it's not a biography of King Bhumibol so much as an analysis of the institution of the modern monarchy, which is inevitably bound up with Bhumibol, but separate. Handley's argument is at its strongest when he's drawing the devastating connections between Bhumibol and the 1976 Thammasat University massacre. Meanwhile, he's at his weakest when he's trying to articulate the relationship between Thaksin and the palace-- he winds up sounding ill-informed and slapdash, not surprising considering that events were still being played out as the book was being prepared for publication. However, I was most fascinated not by the political machinations of the Mahidols and their associates, but by the drama of the king's inner life. Handley depicts Bhumibol as a king worthy of Shakespearean tragedy, striving for good but ultimately destroyed by political tumult, family strife, and ultimately, insanity and delusions of infallibility. As for the accuracy of this assessment, I can't say, but I really want to write a play based on this now.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carolin

    Bhumibol is a very interesting king...reined for such a long time in a changing country, was raised with Western standards and is living a strictly Buddhistic life, seen as holy by his people. He has done and still does a lot of good things but as everyone involved in politics there are some situations that he seemed to handle in a doubtful way. The book was written in a fluent style, still it gets boring from time to time. It is critical and interesting but in my opinion it was written a little Bhumibol is a very interesting king...reined for such a long time in a changing country, was raised with Western standards and is living a strictly Buddhistic life, seen as holy by his people. He has done and still does a lot of good things but as everyone involved in politics there are some situations that he seemed to handle in a doubtful way. The book was written in a fluent style, still it gets boring from time to time. It is critical and interesting but in my opinion it was written a little too much from this overall critical western perspective.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Totally different perspective on the role of King Rama 9 (the world's current longest reigning monarch, of over 60 years) in modern Thai history than you get from any other literature. The book is illegal in Thailand, but a friend whose got a friend in the royal circles of Bangkok told me that all the royal family is now reading it... Totally different perspective on the role of King Rama 9 (the world's current longest reigning monarch, of over 60 years) in modern Thai history than you get from any other literature. The book is illegal in Thailand, but a friend whose got a friend in the royal circles of Bangkok told me that all the royal family is now reading it...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Interesting reading about a topic I knew next to nothing about. I understand current Thai politics and culture much better now than before I started. The book would definitely benefit from maps, charts of the royal family lines, pictures, a pronunciation key and other helps for newcomers. I was very confusing keeping track of all the names.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pearlperfect

    Interesting one. But frankly speaking, parts of it based on rumours which we may not be able to find the truth. The book could be taken as lack of in-depth Thai culture and beliefs understanding from how it was written and could be offensive to some Thai as the writing style is somewhat aggressive. However, I have to admit that the interpretation on his biology is nicely done. It appears that the author had really gone through a good research on Thai political history. FYI, this book is banned i Interesting one. But frankly speaking, parts of it based on rumours which we may not be able to find the truth. The book could be taken as lack of in-depth Thai culture and beliefs understanding from how it was written and could be offensive to some Thai as the writing style is somewhat aggressive. However, I have to admit that the interpretation on his biology is nicely done. It appears that the author had really gone through a good research on Thai political history. FYI, this book is banned in Thailand.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Hermes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Hereditary rule in modern Southeast Asia, a case study A few hereditary rulers in Southeast Asia still have the people's confidence. Late in 2010, shops closed in the Javanese town of Yogyakarta to protect the governing sultan from democratic elections. The reputation of the Malaysian sultans is mixed, but King Norodom Sihanouk is still highly respected despite various strange moves in his political career. Nothing however beats the prestige of Thailand’s King Bhumibol. Paul Handley, once a journ Hereditary rule in modern Southeast Asia, a case study A few hereditary rulers in Southeast Asia still have the people's confidence. Late in 2010, shops closed in the Javanese town of Yogyakarta to protect the governing sultan from democratic elections. The reputation of the Malaysian sultans is mixed, but King Norodom Sihanouk is still highly respected despite various strange moves in his political career. Nothing however beats the prestige of Thailand’s King Bhumibol. Paul Handley, once a journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review, tries to take a look behind the most carefully crafted royal image existing, an image that is protected by strict lèse-majesté laws, and is more modern and democratic than it deserves. Bhumibol’s kingship came unexpectedly. American-born Bhumibol was raised in Lausanne by his partially Chinese commoner mother who, given the lack of a Buddhist temple in the Swiss city, occasionally went to church. He spent his youth in a Christian school studying French, Latin and German, and skiing. He came to the throne at 18 after the violent death of his brother at a time when the monarchy had lost nearly all prestige. Slowly he transformed from a jazz-loving modernist king into a dharmaraja, a selfless king who rules by the Buddhist code of dharma. His public image one of kindly benevolence and impassivity, based upon a public image of silent penitential pleasurelessness, which the Thais taken as a sign of spiritual greatness. The Royal house needed this, because its power is solely based upon moral authority. The King’s image was carefully crafted by courtiers as a bulwark against liberal democracy. The courtiers had managed to take control over education, religion, and history. With these tools they convince a nation that consisted for 80% out of farmers whose life was centred around the wat and Buddhist ritual about the holy trinity of nation, religion, and king. All non-royals were removed from school history books, and the Royal house introduced or changed a series of rituals that stressed sacrality, wisdom, and goodness. It also included a calculated presentation of the king as an enlightened Buddhist full of upekkhā, equanimity. As part of his training the young king had to learn arcane rituals, Buddhist philosophy and deep meditation techniques. Thai kingship is based upon complementary Indian cosmologies of Hindu-Brahmanism and Buddhism. They were based on a semi-divine warrior-king, the kasatriya, whose claim to absolute dynastic power was justified, after military might, by his blood and pure practice (page 17). To justify and sustain rule, a Thai king has to conduct himself in accordance with the dharma, the cosmic law. Not man but dharma rules the world. Humans only roll the wheel of dharma. Dharmais coterminous with truth, so pursuing it is pursuing pure virtue, the way to get there is through practice, just like the Buddha. This includes the acceptance of anicca (impermanence), practicing dana (almsgiving), selflessness, piety, charity, mercy, and rectitude. Hierarchy in Buddhist society is constructed upon levels of closeness to enlightenment. Those more virtuous are better suited to lead others. Karmic energy and merit can outlast mortal life, and birth as a royal is a sign of great karma and merit accumulated in earlier lives. The king then has to follow the raja dharma of 10 kingly virtues: charity, morality, sacrifice, integrity, gentleness, restraint, avoidance of hatred, nonviolence, patience and conciliation. The Hindu-Brahman link that took root in Angkor considers the sovereign a sacral devaraja, or god-king. Buddhism recognises no real deity, but Hinduism has permanent self strength, or atman, the deity of the self. Understanding the self leads to understanding all, or enlightenment. If ultimate reality lies in the deity of the self, then at its highest level it can be a manifestation of the gods, notably Shiva or Vishnu. With the highest level of atman a Hindu king can be a god, and this allows the king to be more forceful. Devarajas automatically belong to the highest caste, so they automatically carry superior self-knowledge. The devaraja protects the earth and the cosmos, the seasons and the weather, giving fertility to soil and women. He harmonises earth with cosmos, by organising the kingdom as a miniature cosmos around the palace as a miniature Mount Meru. Brahmins play an important role in court rituals, e.g. in cutting the king's hair. Consequently, hierarchy is of great importance, and is expressed among others through rajasap, the language for communicating with the king, who himself speaks in every day language. A formal address begins and ends with "may the power of the dust on the soles and the dust under the soles of your royal feet protect my head and the top of my head". According to Mr. Hanley, King Bhumibol has grown to believe that has obtained "matchless wisdom in the ways of man and the cosmos". The King is genuinely personable and desirous of helping people. But political, social, and economic activities have to remain in the narrow realm of the throne's needs and interest. Democracy, constitutionalism, and capitalism only divide people, hence the quiet nod of the throne to an endless number of coups d'état. To obtain the status of dharmaraja, the king had to be seen as the person most willing to sacrifice his assets, the most generous and unattached to his wealth. To finance this largesse, land in central Bangkok as well as other real estate was reclaimed, and investments were made through the Siam Commercial Bank (e.g. leading to the foundation of the Dusit Thani hotel group), and by selling telling the people that they would obtain merit by spending to the king. This also paid for the first development aid projects of the royal family. The royal family itself was weakened due to the tradition of marrying half sisters. On the political front, the King always had to share power with the military, that is usually ineffective and corrupt. Throughout time the King’s ideas move towards the paramount importance of national unity under the king, requiring diligence, selflessness, and duty to the immediate and national family. National unity would rise out of the pure intentions of the dharma. The king was no supporter of selfish capitalism, and modern bureaucracy and the legal system sabotaged national unity. He claimed that his own projects provided superior return on investment, and that the Thais were to docile in accepting their karma. Hard work should be a moral duty. The urbanites, he found, were too selfish, and the peasants too lazy (page 200). The King turns to a conservative, anti-democratic ideology, and visits monks known for magic and supernatural powers. He also still follows a daily schedule advised by royal astrologers (page 253). It has no negative impact on his popularity among the people: When the king falls ill, everybody flies about in panic; when the government falls, no one cares, because government is only entertainment. In the mid 1980's the palace does not look so functional in a time of rising standards of education. The married and otherwise not very smart or beloved crown prince has five children with his commoner mistress, and rumours abound about Queen Sirikit advancing her family’s interests. Corruption is still rampant and the quality of government remains questionable, despite heavy involvement of the palace. The 1990’s are a financial boon for the royal coffers. Thanks to investments in real estate, Siam Cement, Siam Commercial Bank, and minority shares in lots of businesses from Michelin tires to Toshiba television tubes, its total market capitalisation increases to over $ 1 billion. In 1992 the public balks at another coup and constitution with lots of power for military. But king supports the new government, and does not hold much of constitutions anyway: Viewed through Buddhist lenses, they were impermanent, always mutable, and not worth fighting over The king has consistently undermined institutions that support constitutional monarchies in the European style. He saw such institutions as competitors to his prestige. He even preferred corrupt and mercenary generals (the Thai army has one general per 300-350 troops) to professional non-political soldiers, let alone professional politicians. The King keeps competing with the government with his charities that help farmers, but also lectures bureaucrats and politicians publicly about solutions for Bangkok's notorious traffic problems. The Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 allows the King to claim the role of the nation's most important helper, although the government does more. Inspired by E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”, he also speaks out against capitalism and in favour of a "self-supporting economy", offering enough to survive. But it does not stop the King to require that the government injects some one billion dollars at unfavourable terms in saving Siam Commercial Bank. The monarchy's resistance to change is unremarkable: a number of contemporary monarchies, including those of Brunei, Nepal, and the Middle East, have also stalled the modernisation of government. The Thai difference is that, rather than maintaining the monarchy's stature through mass coercion and repression, Bhumibol has employed language and more importantly visual statement to persuade his subjects that Thailand is culturally and corporeally dependent on a strong monarchy, and that Thais are better off for it. (page 429) The author's narrative is strongly based upon the king, his relation with his prime minister, and the king's Hindu Buddhist ideology. Little broader context is given, e.g. regarding national economic policy (usually not the forte of military governments), causes for corruption etc. Although the core story is clear and supported by details ad nauseam, the broader context is marginalised. The first and last chapters are worth buying the book, as they give an interpretation of the workings of the Thai monarchy. The other chapters account for the king's reception of the many coups and constitutions, and are somewhat tedious to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Pietersma

    A work about a fascinating king who I have seen many times but in fact knew little off. After reading this work, it revealed to me how much of a fascinating and troubled life he had, how the course of the world and Thailand shaped his life, and in particular the Buddhist aspects of his governance, for which now I can better understand the revering of this Thai king. Given the controversy surrounding this book, I can understand several of the critiques. The negative aspect of the book is the over A work about a fascinating king who I have seen many times but in fact knew little off. After reading this work, it revealed to me how much of a fascinating and troubled life he had, how the course of the world and Thailand shaped his life, and in particular the Buddhist aspects of his governance, for which now I can better understand the revering of this Thai king. Given the controversy surrounding this book, I can understand several of the critiques. The negative aspect of the book is the overbearing of the role of Bhumibol, creating a relatively bad image in the first part, and therefore failing to adequately explain its popularity. At times, I feel some critiques are not fair or too from an AmericanWestern perspective. In addition, at times there are quite some paradoxes in the work. However, I still very much enjoyed the reading, and makes me want to learn more about this fascinating king and it makes me wonder what the author has to say more about the current times.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Island Lover

    To say that this novel is informative would be an understatement. It was hard to believe that one author created this incredibly sourced historical account of Thailand. Towards the middle it was easy to see why it would be banned in Thailand as there is definite criticism. The ending was sublime, the final lines reading, "Ultimately, members of the royal family will have to make use of one of the monarch's greatest unspoken prerogatives: the alchemic ability and right to remake itself before oth To say that this novel is informative would be an understatement. It was hard to believe that one author created this incredibly sourced historical account of Thailand. Towards the middle it was easy to see why it would be banned in Thailand as there is definite criticism. The ending was sublime, the final lines reading, "Ultimately, members of the royal family will have to make use of one of the monarch's greatest unspoken prerogatives: the alchemic ability and right to remake itself before others do it. That is the key to its survival." Glad I read this book, what often times felt like a tome. A must-read for anyone relocating to Thailand!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rozie Bakar

    A history of the great King Bumibhol and his generation before and after. I like the way the author described his history of living as a young prince in Switzerland although they werent too detail. However, I feel the book is more about the politics in Thailand and less about the royal family . Still, the royal family is too heavily involved in political issues in Thailand to not to be related to in the book. I had to skip a few chapters as I felt too drowning in the political turmoil . A good i A history of the great King Bumibhol and his generation before and after. I like the way the author described his history of living as a young prince in Switzerland although they werent too detail. However, I feel the book is more about the politics in Thailand and less about the royal family . Still, the royal family is too heavily involved in political issues in Thailand to not to be related to in the book. I had to skip a few chapters as I felt too drowning in the political turmoil . A good insight of Thailans' great King Bumibhol.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James Anuntasethakul

    At first, the thing I want to get from this book is that how King Bhumibol being widely known. Paul clearly explains the relation between King Bhumibol and the army and how he can protect the "monarchy" by himself. I think that Paul's explanation about King Bhumibol's act is a bit ambiguous but it's ok if you wanna get a basic knowledge about why he became famous to many other people, you should read this book. At first, the thing I want to get from this book is that how King Bhumibol being widely known. Paul clearly explains the relation between King Bhumibol and the army and how he can protect the "monarchy" by himself. I think that Paul's explanation about King Bhumibol's act is a bit ambiguous but it's ok if you wanna get a basic knowledge about why he became famous to many other people, you should read this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    S.J. Nielsen

    Great info if you live/work in SE Asia and need to understand culture, politics, history of Thailand. It's also an interesting read if you DON'T have those needs, but is way more detailed than most casual readers would enjoy. The King of the title died in 2016, after a multi-decade reign, and whether his son will have the respect his father was able to generate among the population and politicians is an open question, as is what will become of Thailand if he cannot gain it. Great info if you live/work in SE Asia and need to understand culture, politics, history of Thailand. It's also an interesting read if you DON'T have those needs, but is way more detailed than most casual readers would enjoy. The King of the title died in 2016, after a multi-decade reign, and whether his son will have the respect his father was able to generate among the population and politicians is an open question, as is what will become of Thailand if he cannot gain it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lizzie

    Thorough overview of the Thai King Bhumibol. Starts with Thai history about the monarchy and the previous generations of the Chakri dynasty. Very in depth review of the king's decades in leadership. I definitely learned a lot! It was perhaps a little more in depth that I wanted, but excellently written. The author balances reporting what the Thai monarchy officially says with other reports to put together a complete picture. If you're visiting Thailand, this could be a great read! Thorough overview of the Thai King Bhumibol. Starts with Thai history about the monarchy and the previous generations of the Chakri dynasty. Very in depth review of the king's decades in leadership. I definitely learned a lot! It was perhaps a little more in depth that I wanted, but excellently written. The author balances reporting what the Thai monarchy officially says with other reports to put together a complete picture. If you're visiting Thailand, this could be a great read!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Adam Preston

    This is the definitive story of Thailand which every farang living in Thailand or contemplating living here should read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mohd

    History train in Thailand always fascinating. The reason why Thailand never been occupied.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dennis

    Gives you a better understand of the Thai monarchy and their relation with Thai politics. Book has many references for you to check the information or get more detailed information.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I'd heard about this book for years, and as someone who had lived in Thailand was very curious about it. While I'm sure that Handley won't be welcome back to the kingdom any time soon for telling the story of the King as he has, I think his book is quite impressive. His writing rendered clear a great many things that had baffled me while in country--in my experience, many people were willing to talk about things like scandals in the royal family, but did not dwell on them at all. I've got a much I'd heard about this book for years, and as someone who had lived in Thailand was very curious about it. While I'm sure that Handley won't be welcome back to the kingdom any time soon for telling the story of the King as he has, I think his book is quite impressive. His writing rendered clear a great many things that had baffled me while in country--in my experience, many people were willing to talk about things like scandals in the royal family, but did not dwell on them at all. I've got a much better sense of Thailand and it's politics after reading the book; they are every bit as intricate, challenging as, say, French politics in the fourth republic, and studying them could be just as rewarding. Many people quibble about the unending lists of long Thai names, but that shouldn't matter--make a list of names and short descriptions so that you can refer to it later. The book itself made an interesting comparison to the other book I've reviewed today, The Cleanest Race, BR Myers book on North Korean political culture. Myers' book wasn't as nuanced as Handley's, largely because the body of work he was working from (North Korean political propaganda) isn't nearly as variegated as Handley's sources. And that says a lot about Thailand in the past 50 years; some people argue that the palace is a uniformly pernicious influence on Thailand (and I do not think that Handley is among them), it is still a great deal freer than many countries in the world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    So controversial that it is banned in the Kingdom of Thailand, this thoroughly researched portrait of the modern Thai monarchy proves both eye-opening and very valuable. The revered King of Thailand undergoes closer scrutiny, under which he actually continues to look like a very kind, benevolent leader. But there are some interesting insights into the machinations of the royalist supporters over the past sixty-plus years. An important read for anyone who will be living in this county, but read i So controversial that it is banned in the Kingdom of Thailand, this thoroughly researched portrait of the modern Thai monarchy proves both eye-opening and very valuable. The revered King of Thailand undergoes closer scrutiny, under which he actually continues to look like a very kind, benevolent leader. But there are some interesting insights into the machinations of the royalist supporters over the past sixty-plus years. An important read for anyone who will be living in this county, but read it before you come into the country or, at least, take the dust jacket off before passing through customs!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Suvi

    I found this very interesting - especially since there are not many books on Thailand's monarchy, much less any biographies. Because of the strict censorship Thailand imposes, it is hard to find unbiased views of the monarchy (besides the underground gossip). This biography has created a very different view of the monarchy that I grew up with and heard about but I do wish that it focused more on the king and not the politics of Thailand. I understand that Thai politics play a crucial role in the I found this very interesting - especially since there are not many books on Thailand's monarchy, much less any biographies. Because of the strict censorship Thailand imposes, it is hard to find unbiased views of the monarchy (besides the underground gossip). This biography has created a very different view of the monarchy that I grew up with and heard about but I do wish that it focused more on the king and not the politics of Thailand. I understand that Thai politics play a crucial role in the government and the role of the monarchy, but I feel that I still don't know much about the king after reading this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    A very well researched look at the Thai monarchy, particularly the unprecedented reign of King Bhumibol (Rama IX). The book is banned in Thailand, certainly it a critical though I believe quite balanced. I would really like to see an update, given the turmoil in Thailand since it was published in 2006, to cover former Prime Minister Shinawatra's dismissal (and subsequent further controversy) plus coups and red shirt/yellow shirt protests, as well as further speculation of what will become of the A very well researched look at the Thai monarchy, particularly the unprecedented reign of King Bhumibol (Rama IX). The book is banned in Thailand, certainly it a critical though I believe quite balanced. I would really like to see an update, given the turmoil in Thailand since it was published in 2006, to cover former Prime Minister Shinawatra's dismissal (and subsequent further controversy) plus coups and red shirt/yellow shirt protests, as well as further speculation of what will become of the monarchy and Thai politics after the king passes away.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Fascinating, comprehensive, and exhaustive look at the mythology surrounding the Thai monarch. So thorough, however, that reading can get tiresome sometimes. This book probably will not be of much interest to those without prior knowledge or interest in Thai politics or culture, as really nothing written can truly convey the status that the king has achieved amongst the Thai people. Without that context to enlighten the analysis, the book would be a chore.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shea

    Definitely not surprised this book is illegal in Thailand! Currently re-reading it as I'm not sure I correctly digested all the information a couple of months ago, the writing is tedious at times. It's refreshing to read something other than absolute and unconditional praise for Thailand's monarchy. However, because of Thailand's free information restrictions, I question everything - opposing views, as well - that I read, especially about the monarchy. Interesting stuff, though. Definitely not surprised this book is illegal in Thailand! Currently re-reading it as I'm not sure I correctly digested all the information a couple of months ago, the writing is tedious at times. It's refreshing to read something other than absolute and unconditional praise for Thailand's monarchy. However, because of Thailand's free information restrictions, I question everything - opposing views, as well - that I read, especially about the monarchy. Interesting stuff, though.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peck

    One of my fav television image showed the King broking a truce between bitter political figures rivalling for power in the early 90s. Now I see the untold stories behind that image. Occasionally uncharitable in his assessment, and picking on nitty-gritty details, the book is nevertheless revealing about the other face of the King in contrast to the official version.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Hafar

    Highly critical of the current monarch and his family. This would be very unpleasant reading if you subscribe to the whole mythology/personality cult which has been built up over decades. While it does contain a few undocumented assertions and some speculation (e.g. the Ananda murder/suicide), the documentation is easily sufficient for plausibility.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom & Beverly

    You really can understand why he never smiles! It gives you an idea of the intrigues of palace and Thail politics which is very complex. Also talks about the future but things change fast and the events of the last coup are not covered but it is more of the same .....

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kami

    I'll admit, I didn't read the whole thing. It's long, it's deep, it has a lot of references to people I lost track of who they were. But this is a true story of royal intrigue. Fascinating. I still love the King! I'll admit, I didn't read the whole thing. It's long, it's deep, it has a lot of references to people I lost track of who they were. But this is a true story of royal intrigue. Fascinating. I still love the King!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    Dragged in the middle - also, I felt you could tell when the tone of the author became more sharp concerning the topic in the second half (perhaps more data sources?) Interesting perspective on how things work politically in Thailand...and that all hands are at least somewhat dirty.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lana

    Living in Thailand for 10+ years so of course I'm always keen to find out more about the country, even (well, especially) the bits that make people fearful and uncomfortable. But unable to legally buy or possess here due to censorship.... Living in Thailand for 10+ years so of course I'm always keen to find out more about the country, even (well, especially) the bits that make people fearful and uncomfortable. But unable to legally buy or possess here due to censorship....

  30. 4 out of 5

    Thanaphon Yoorum

    The King Never Smiles

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