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4 Fascinating Books About Queen Elizabeth II

Go beyond ‘The Crown’ for in-depth stories about her life and reign

Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) reading in her apartment at Buckingham Palace, London.
Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The queen’s passing may have piqued your interest in her life and the remarkable story of a quiet young woman crowned at age 25 and reigning for 70 years as Britain and the world were transformed. These four books explore their subject in different ways: Two are more traditional biographies, another describes the relationship between the queen and her sister Margaret, and the fourth considers her among Britain’s 1,000 years of monarchs and puts her reign in perspective.

Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman (2022)

Queen of Our Times, by Robert Hardman
Simon & Schuster

British journalist Hardman offers a weighty in-depth look – 630 pages worth, plus 22 pages of photos — at the queen’s life and often challenging reign. The young queen, he writes, was handed “a unique task” when she succeeded to the throne, “one which no new monarch had ever been expected to deal with before: manage decline.” The author knows his stuff. He also penned 2019’s well-reviewed Queen of the World: Elizabeth II: Sovereign and Stateswoman and Her Majesty: Queen Elizabeth and her Court, which was timed to her diamond jubilee in 2012, but his latest, which begins with her birth and ends just shy of her recent passing (the book came out in April), is billed as “a definitive portrait.”   

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Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters by Andrew Morton (2021)

Elizabeth & Margaret, by Andrew Morton
Grand Central Publishing

The prolific Morton — author of books on Prince Andrew, Meghan Markle and many others — focuses here on the queen and her sister Margaret, whom viewers of The Crown know as a slightly wild, rather embittered character forever and inevitably in her more reserved sibling’s shadow. This book adds detail to the portrait of two very different girls, then women, and the growing tension between them. While they were the best of friends as children, when Elizabeth was crowned at age 25, Margaret suddenly was in a position where she “would have to curtsey to the sister she called ‘Lillibet.’ And bow to her wishes,” he writes. If this book leaves you wanting more, there’s more coming: Morton’s publisher has just pushed up the release date for his next book about the queen, called, yes, The Queen, out on Nov. 15

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith (2012) 

Elizabeth the Queen, by Sally Bedell Smith
Lerner Publishing Group

This bestseller, marking the queen’s 60 years on the throne, goes deep into her romance and marriage with Prince Philip, motherhood, royal tasks, political crises and personal hardships. It’s familiar territory, but like other writers on this list, Bedell Smith has steeped herself in the monarchy, authoring books on Prince Charles and Princess Diana, among many other notables. She’s also a skilled writer who offers colorful anecdotes that together paint a vivid picture of the queen. For example, she writes, young Elizabeth “showed an early ability to compartmentalize-a trait that would later help her cope with the demands of her position. Recalled Lady Mary Clayton, a cousin eight years her senior: “She liked to imagine herself as a pony or a horse. When she was doing that and someone called her and she didn’t answer right away, she would then say, ‘I couldn’t answer you as a pony.’ ”

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Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy, from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II by Tracy Borman (2022) 

Crown & Sceptre, by Tracy Borman
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

A bit different than the other three biographies included here, this book looks at Queen Elizabeth II in the context of almost 1,000 years of the British monarchy, “one of the most iconic and enduring institutions in the world,” writes Borman, England’s joint chief curator of historic royal palaces and chief executive of the Heritage Education Trust. The author includes all the drama and blood-spilling you’d expect from a British royal history book, but also explores how the relationship between the monarchy and its subjects evolved, particularly as the power of the Parliament grew. “By the time Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, the sovereign no longer ruled; they reigned,” she notes. And Elizabeth II carried the weight of all that history, even as the legitimacy of her position was questioned as never before.