The King Never Smiles


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A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej

Paul M. Handley; With a New Preface

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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, 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 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.

Paul M. Handley is a freelance journalist who lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia for more than twenty years, including thirteen in Thailand.

"Little wonder that before Paul Handley no one had really pried into the king’s sleeping habits, let alone the state of his marriage or political views. The story he uncovers is fascinating."—Economist

"A significant contribution to the sparse literature on Bhumibol. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"A new and comprehensive history of the Thai modern monarchy . . . [which] presents a direct counterpoint to years of methodical royal image-making."—Jane Perlez, The Sunday Telegraph

"A critique of the world’s longest reigning monarch and his machinations for domination at the cost of scruples. It unveils the throne’s self-protecting alliances with army bosses, drug dealers, bankers, monopolists, and the C.I.A., and evaluates the long-term damage done to Thai politics by the king’s obsession for controlling state and society."—Sreeram Chaulia,

"Handley, an American journalist who reported from Bangkok for many years, has written one of the most important books on Thailand to appear in English."—Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books

"This work is essential to understanding Thailand's modern political history and, particularly, the latest coup. Just as important, and perhaps more ominous, the book raises questions about how Thailand will adjust to its first real change in government in more than 60 years without the leadership of the 79-year-old king."—Major Dewayne Creamer, Proceedings/U.S. Naval Institute

"The first serious biography of perhaps the most important figure in modern Thai history."—James Ockey, Pacific Affairs

"Written by a journalist who resided in the Kingdom for thirteen years, it is exceptionally well written and reflects a deep knowledge of Thai politics and history. . . . The King Never Smiles is a daring, landmark work, clearly based on extensive research, which deserves much praise. It joins a small but growing body of proactive literature relating to kingship and politics in Thailand today and is certainly the most critical of anything previously published. As such it should compel future writers on Thailand to pay heed to the contemporary role of monarchy in Thai culture, society and politics."—P.W. Chambers, Contemporary Southeast Asia

"Widely regarded as the definitive biography."—Michael Sullivan, Senior Asia Correspondent, National Public Radio
ISBN: 9780300228304
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
520 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4

Sales Restrictions: World except Southeast Asia