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on 20 April 2011
"The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI" (1895-1952) by Sarah Bradford, 1st publication 1989.

The great and awesome Prince Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI - father of Queen Elizabeth II - has always been an inspiration to me and my family. My father greatly admired this man, who was himself a great father. The king was not only a doting father to his two beautiful daughters - he truly acquitted himself bravely and well as the father of England. This point is often missed by everyone.

Sarah Bradford, royal biographer extraordinaire, with this 1989 biography gives us a hefty glimpse into the life of the great prince, Albert "Bertie" Windsor, who started off as the Duke of York and married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon; the same chap who ended up being king of England (when his brother Edward David, King Edward VIII, abdicated).

Bradford uses her great respect and British restraint to show us the sufferings and travails of King George, who stood and faced the war bravely and tried to pull England into a more modern age. Yet she pulls no punches, and has become a sparkling, oft-consulted expert of that historical era.

On a bit of a down side: one cannot blame Bradford for her unbridled enthusiasm. There had been only one official biography of the king, and it was heavily sanitized because the king took some part in it. Bradford is the first and only full-fledged biographer of King George VI. That in itself strikes me as tragic, but then there was much that was unknown about this great old king who died too young.

Bradford dives in too hard, and the result is a bit amateurish. It is like the writing of a student giddy with too much new and exciting information. I.e., Bradford spends nearly 30 pages yammering incessantly about the disgraced King Edward VIII - I know there is historical value and precedence, but this is already a densely written book employing a tiny font. I admit, I get a slight migraine every time I read it. Bradford seems to have forgot that King Edward is covered in many biographies, to say nothing of the two books he himself authored.

There is also Bradford's insistence on detailing obsessively: she often repeats entire quotes just a few pages later, for no apparent reason. One thing that bothers me even more is no one seems to have taught Bradford how to create new paragraphs. She typically takes up a page and a half with one paragraph. It's a bit tiresome, and as I said, tough on the eyes. I praise her highly for one thing: this book is not littered with sloppy footnotes, a major pet peeve and something I never do as an author/scientist.

Overly zealous and a bit 'yammery' she may well be, but she is no Lady Frances Donaldson, at least. Donaldson's EDWARD VIII is an absolute disgrace in that it is nothing more than primary school facts and transcriptions of the correspondence of others, littered with the heaviest footnotes I've seen in a post-Victorian text. Bradford evaded all those horrid pot-holes, and I can only thank God it was she and not Lady Frances who biographed King George VI.

Do not miss your chance to own this and other bios of Bradford's - and learn about this fascinating, stuttering, timid, powerful and brave king who gave England back its temporarily lost pride. You will not feel that British bog-down in Bradford's writing, and there are excellent illustrations here as well.

Though the original review is old now, I add this: you'll love this book more than the recently released The King's Speech, and it will tell you all you need to know about the true story behind that.
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