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3.8 out of 5 stars16
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 18 May 2014
Having spent several years living and working in Thailand, reading this book felt like a guilty secret. As every Thai (and everyone else who has been there) knows, there is just one opinion on the Monarchy. Therefore this book offers some refreshing balance. This isn't all about King Bhumibol either; and is a great summary of Thailand's modern history and its constant struggle find political stability and democracy. It also tells the story of how a dynasty on its knees managed to not only survive, but go from strength to strength, with the leadership, determination and guile of just one man.

This book though is certainly not free from bias. However, set in a frustrating backdrop of religion-endorsed superiority, media censorship, omnipresent overt propaganda and draconian lese-majeste law, it is somewhat understandable. The bulk of the most critical parts are obviously based on rumour alone. Still, In a country where it is illegal to defame, insult or threaten the Monarchy, its not surprising that the author struggled to find many accurate references for his arguments.

Overall this book is a fascinating read for anyone with in an interest in Thai history and culture. I do though feel it is heavily padded, with lots of irritating repetition. My greatest criticism though is the unnecessary use of academic and high brow language, making it almost impossible to read for any non-native speaker.
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on 20 June 2008
An interesting perspective on the Thai monarchy. Large parts of the text are clearly padding and somewhat heavy going while the 'interesting bits' are generally inadequately covered. Not really enough references. A book half the size would have been more accessible and informative. Nonetheless this book is worth persisting with as it contains some interesting nuggets. I would be wary of over reliance on it as an accurate reflection of the position of the monarchy in Thailand but it does have value as an alternative to the mainstream perspective.
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on 19 September 2015
the best book for thai people who really wants to know more about your country unfortunately prohibited. many things in Thailand is taboo and authority does not want you to know. it is an open eyes book.
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on 12 January 2016
Insightful non-censored story that no Thai wants to hear. This book reveals some 'truths' about the Thai monarchy that will never be allowed to circulate in Thailand. It's a remarkable book that un-plugs the mythology of a protected institution and makes a great read. Perhaps it should be followed up with the 'truth' behind the 'Saudi Princess jewel heist' another powerful story of Thai intrigue, misinformation and institutional corruption.
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on 24 May 2014
This might sound obvious but if you have no knowledge of Thailand or the king or have no interest in Thailand dont bother. It is far to complicated and in depth a book and will confuse you untill you give up. However for those who want to learn more it is great, very interesting and will shock you. But be prepared for a tough read and what ever you do don't take it to Thailand, the Thai's love their King and this is not the most positive book and is banned in Thailand, they will take it seriously so if you take it there then just take the paper cover off it.
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on 20 May 2010
I write this review on may 20 2010, central Bangkok has been ripped apart, burnt tires and bodies litter the streets, while redshirt protesters set fire to town halls across the country. Never has Handley's book seemed more important, Thailand can only progress if it can talk openly about its king. This book needs to be compulsory for every Thai and anyone with a passing interest in Thailand.

Mr Handley and those Thais that worked with him to write this book did so at great personal risk from Thailand's draconian lese majeste laws, and because of its publication mr Handley will never set foot in Thailand again. Truly a brave and important book, the like of which we see very little in the modern world.
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on 21 September 2006
As someone who spent my childhood in upcountry Thailand, went to state schools there and later in Bangkok and had an advance degree from a US University, I thought i would share with my countrymen how we perceive the King. My conversations with friends, colleagues, and most of the comments here by Thai readers/reviewers say I was totally wrong.

The book hits the nail in its head when it says that most thai my generation (I was born in the turbulent year 1976, when the right-wing government crushed student protestors and the King declared the event "the saddest day in Thai history") have always seen the King in the best of lights - and it was not something that wasn't well-planned by someone. In retrospect, I agree with the author about how the palace has orchestrated all their efforts on setting the royals in the best of lights, i.e. making all the royal projects look far more important and successful than their real worths by downplaying efforts by governments, presenting the royals in the way of super-human, in every aspect possible. When I was a young adult, I did not have a second thought about what the media was protraying the king and the royal family, i accepted it as truths and I don't have any reason to believe that most of my countrymen would see things otherwise - everything was so grand, so well orchestrated and thus so believeable.

One notable point that I think Handley sums up the sentiment of many Thai very nicely is when he briefly discussed another biography on King Bhumibol "The Revolutionary King" (which I also read several years back) that it was probably for the consumption of a small group of educated Thais who tend to be more ready to accept what's written in English than those written in Thai (for several reasons, for one, they believe the author can escape the lesse majeste by saying negative things about the King in English) My view about the King has always been similar to the one protrayed in "The Revolutionary King", which puts the King as a very capable person though with some minor flaws - which make it easier to swallow than "The Perfect One" image that the Palace media has always been projecting. Deep down, I believe, many Thais think of the King as human, yet a very respectable one (though many choose to live with the fairy tale that he is a true semi-god), so when we hear negative minor points about him, we think it could all be possible and make him even more humane yet more likable. This could be the original purpose of the "Revolutionary King" - reinforcing the King's image to the elite Thai lot. The book was written by the person who wrote "The Man called Intreprid" which was translated by the King himself.

Overall, Handley convincingly argue his case that things could be looked at in a very different perspective. He backs up his arguements with well-researched evidence many anecdotes the average Thai would have heard of. For me I haven't heard of just about half (probably more for even younger people), the others are totally new to me.

I highly recommend this book to any Thai who want to understand the country and the monarchy better, in a more objective way. This book doesn't make me love the country and the King less. It makes me understand the King better, in a more realistic way.

I also recommend an academic piece by McCargo "Network Monarchy" if you find this book interesting.
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on 25 July 2012
The book that Thai people and someone who have to live in Thailand must read.You can't find out this kind of information in Thai mass media. The author has a lot knowledge and truly understand about Thai administration.
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on 5 September 2014
Do not bring this to Thailand as this is a banned book there
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on 10 October 2006
Without a doubt, this book is banned in Thailand. I just got back from England and found out that my mother is totally pissed just because Handley is American and he writes a book about the king. She kept saying that he does not know anything. I am certain my mother is not the only one who has the same sort of super-positive thinking about the King.

I am a new generation--the generation in which the king has been re-portrated as a semi-god since the bloodshed events in the 1970's. However, interestingly, as Handley has tried to illustrate in his well-written book, the fact that in Thailand the king 'can do no wrong' is a ubiquitous thought (and it was surely brought about by the notion of the king as a sacred non-political icon)among the Thai populace, the King and the Palace have chosen to inject the simple yet strong notion of the King as a 'scholar', 'musician', 'initiative' so on and so forth. This is how the King could simply survive a number of political crisis in the past. Thailand in the 21th century in terms of its national stregnth, has been therefore taken for granted to survive, almost entirely, 'by' the King.

As a journalist, Handley cannot write as biographers do and, indeed, there are much less references than it should have. The book, nonetheless, is highly recommended as a thought-provoking tool and for those who live in Thailand and want to escape from the everyday-repeated message in the Palace News. I agree with Khun Saraburian that the book does not make me love the King less. I do not care if the past and the events have flawed him in any ways. As the centre of all the Thais' heart, he is worth admiring and prasing.
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