King Never Smiles

King Never Smiles

King Never Smiles


Yale University Press

    Paul M. Handley




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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. Now out in paperback with a new preface by author Paul Handley, The King Never Smiles is the first independent biography of Thailand’s monarch, tells the unexpected story of Bhumibol’s life and seventy 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, skilful political manoeuvrings, and attempt to shape Thailand as a Buddhist kingdom. Handley takes full note of Bhumibol’s achievements in art, in sports, and in 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, 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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