The King Never Smiles

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Book Code: 29791272
Language: English
Pages: 512
Author: Paul M. Handley
Country: Thailand
Edition: Revised Edition
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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. 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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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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Early on, Handley declares that current king of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej's restoration of the Thai monarchy is, in fact, "one of the great untold stories of the 20th century." The dense history he assembles more than meets the high expectations he sets for himself. Bhumibol, ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty and the first American-born Thai monarch, took power in 1946 during a time when being king was not the most desirable job in the country. Handley offers a substantive history of the monarchy reaching back 500 years, providing the framework for understanding Bhumibol's challenge as king and "leading theologian" following the 1932 coup that turned the old kingdom of Siam, an absolute monarchy, into the constitutional monarchy of Thailand. While rendered politically weak by the coup and subsequent power struggles, Bhumibol has quietly salvaged the relevance of the monarchy while maintaining the image of bodhittsava-like figurehead, a tricky and necessary accomplishment for a country balanced between modernity and ancient Buddhist and Hindu tradition. Dynamic in both his professional and personal life, Bhumibol grapples with insurgencies, growing leftist sentiment and an alliance with the U.S. to combat Communism, finding time along the way to dabble in everything from water development projects to jazz composition. This absorbing and well-researched volume should please Asian history buffs and those interested in the topical challenge of leading a traditional society into the modern world. 
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