The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis banned book review: Paul Handley’s ‘The King Never Smiles’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 26•10

As it says on the back cover, “Any journalist or academic who takes an interest in Thailand soon learns that one topic is off limits: the modern monarchy.” It also mentions that “it is dangerous, and one risks expulsion or jail for lèse-majesté” for reporting on sensitive matters relating to the royal family. And thusly, into these murky waters dives author Paul Handley in his book The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej (2006, ISBN 0-300-10682-3). This book has been banned in Thailand and is not available for purchase there.

Expat writers living in Thailand never write publicly about the subject of the monarchy and accession, and are wary about discussing the subject with other than close friends or trusted colleagues. Handley’s book is unavailable in Thailand, although seemingly every bookstore employee knows of its existence. Although a half-decade old, the book, reflecting the nature of the subject matter itself, remains a political hot potato in the Land of Smiles.

Freedom of the Press is not a concept that means the same in Thailand as it does in many western countries, and that goes for book publishing and distribution as well. So if you want to read this important book, you’ll have to do it in another country. And it is an important book, as it provides an essential non-Thai perspective on the history of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, his family, confidants, and the history behind his accession to the throne.

Author Handley worked in Thailand for thirteen years, and worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia for more than twenty years. The book is 499 pages long, and is an exhaustive study. In addition to historical data relating to the King, there are fascinating details regarding Queen Sirikit and the entire royal family that have never appeared in Thai newspapers. The chapter entitled Family Headaches is important reading for those interested in the possibility of the accession to the throne of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Thai courts have repeatedly used the lèse-majesté concept liberally in jailing offenders, which is one of the many reasons that requesting this book in Thai bookstores raises eyebrows. In our opinion, it’s a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the politics that drive Thailand. If you’re an expat, we’d recommend reading it at a location away from Thailand. If you bring it back in your luggage, you do so at your own risk. Buy it now at the WoWasis estore.

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  1. […] scratching the surface. The authors don’t gloss over much, either, referring to books such as ‘The King Never Smiles,’ which cannot be obtained in Thailand due to censorship laws. And speaking of writing, the […]

  2. […] Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté and Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles, it is essential reading for those desiring to know what goes on behind the scenes in terms of the […]

  3. eduf says:

    Talk about hot!!! A 55 year old Thai-American named Joe Gordon is serving 1.5 years in a Thai prison for translating portions of the book and putting it up on a Thai website. Even though he did this while livng overseas, he was nabbed at the Thai border upon entry. Read more at

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