The King Never Smiles – Paul M Handley

Discussing the Thai King

In the continuing saga of trying to understand all things Thai at the moment, a must read book is “The King Never Smiles” written by Paul M Handley, an American journalist who until recently lived in Thailand for 13 years or so.
In all my discussions on Thaksin and current nonsensical developments in Thailand, I have always known that no discussion would be complete without understanding the king’s influence in the scheme of things. His influence is far more prosaic but real than we would dare imagine. Yet, either no one will discuss it, or those who can will see only the imagery we have all come to accept of a king who loves his people and so on.
One theme the book develops quite well, is in drawing attention to the king’s role in almost all the coups and return to military occupations that the country has succumbed to in the past 30-40 years. It’s like if something happens once, it is understandable to say he had no choice. But when he intervenes again and again, then something must be said about his deep tendencies.

The book is written almost Thai style, with court intrigues and the stuff that goes into telling a Thai story. In a sense, how else would you tell a Thai story? Unanswered historical incidences, the pampering of his son by the queen, the status of his eldest daughter and everything that contributes to where Thailand really stands today, both as a monarchical society and as a modern economy.

Was Handley biased in any way? I would say, if biased, then necessarily so as to draw out the issues that must be discussed to be understood.

Must read to understand.

PS: Having said that, a number of monarchies in the region must be demystified in order to discuss their countries in a constructive manner. If anyone asks me which country in the world I like the least, I would certainly say, Brunei Darrusalam. Here is a country where the king is one of the richest people in the world, but he would not even invest his money in his own country, and his people are basically lost in terms of what they can achieve. For the longest time, there was no reason to argue with the fact that the average Bruneian really had nowhere to go or to do or achieve. But now that several Arab countries – in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait – have started inviting global expertise to help diversify and deepen their economies, the question must be asked – what is the Sultan of Brunei doing with his 300,000 people? Is it in his interest to keep them docile and disenfranchised? Not any more, I should think.


  1. You'r right ED. Fabulous book. See you in Jakarta

  2. The Author is just a frog in a small bowl who believed that is an ocean.

  3. All right. good post.

  4. (Kindle Edition) I am considering tnarelivg to Thailand so I thought I’d get this book to browse through it to learn more. While there were a couple good tips, there was NO editing of this book it seemed. Punctuation was missing, the same sentence would be repeated two or three times in a row, etc. Once I was about 3/4 of the way through the book, it wouldn’t let me go forward/backwards any pages. It locked up my Kindle and I had to restart it (took several times to work!). Freaked me out a bit, since thats the first time that has happened. If I tried any other book it worked, but if I went back to this Thailand book, it locked up again. I deleted it from my Kindle but even doing that locked it up. Once I restarted it and it was off my Kindle, I was good again and I haven’t had problems with other books. I’m deleting this book completely from my Kindle library to avoid any more problems. I’m not sure if this would happen to you too, but to me, it seems like it had a virus attached to the book or something to cause all the problems. Buyer beware (and definitely if bad editing bugs you too).

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