Sally Bedell Smith

A trio of books that turn deep research into dazzling stories.



Writing on subjects from the Kennedys to the Clintons, from Princess Diana to William S. Paley, Sally Bedell Smith's teases out the human drama behind the headlines and history books. Her new biography, Elizabeth the Queen  mines extensive interviews and never-before-seen documents to chronicle the life of Queen Elizabeth II, a woman who, despite reigning for almost sixty years, remains largely mysterious to the commonwealth, masked by the veil of royal decorum. This week, Smith points us to three works that showcase "the power of research in fiction and nonfiction."


Books by Sally Bedell Smith



The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

By Edmund de Waal


"In this highly original memoir, Edmund de Waal uses the remarkable survival of an ancestor's collection of carved ivory and wood netsuke to explore the lives of family members through the objects they collected. An artist by profession, de Waal shifts from meditative musings on the forms of French and Japanese art to terrifying scenes of Nazi thugs looting his family's palatial Viennese home. His tone is restrained, but his passion for history and his descriptive powers make reading this book an intensely visual and even tactile experience."



Wolf Hall

By Hilary Mantel


"Hilary Mantel audaciously and convincingly re-imagines some of the most indelible characters of English history: Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and Cardinal Wolsey. Told through the eyes of Cromwell, her novel transforms a notorious character into a man of sympathetic dimensions -- smart and cunning but also loving and kind. Mantel immersed herself in Tudor history, including the letters of Cromwell and More, and her expertise enriches the physical details, nuances of character, gradations of status, and maneuvers of power."



State of Wonder

By Ann Patchett


"Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist for a Midwestern pharmaceutical firm, journeys into the Brazilian rain forest on a complicated quest: to find a doctor obsessed with developing a miracle drug, and to solve the mystery of a colleague's death. It is also a voyage of self discovery for Singh, who confronts the demons of her past and finds within herself surprising strength. Ann Patchett creates characters as vivid as the worlds they inhabit -- from the bleakness of Minnesota's wintry landscape to the suffocating heat and menace of the Amazonian jungle. Underlying this absorbing novel is Patchett's impressive grasp of medicine, botany, ornithology, and anthropology, which heightens the reader's 'state of wonder.'"

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.