Fascinated by Amy Lowell since the second grade, I had planned only on  writing a biography of Amy and her siblings but once I began researching the Lowells of Massachusetts I found so many  fascinating stories about this  remarkable family that I decided to write about three hundred years of Lowells.  In The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family, I begin with 68-year old Percival Lowell coming to the New World in 1639, and follow the line of Lowells as they became  revolutionaries creating a new nation in the 1700s; merchants and manufacturers building prosperity in the 1800s; and scientists, activists, and artists flourishing in the 1900s.

“[A] stirring saga…Vivid and intimate… Ms. Sankovitch has made a compelling contribution to Massachusetts and American History.” – Wall Street Journal

Sankovitch’s “skillful blending of context and detail makes the vicissitudes of one family emblematic of a nation’s…” – The New Yorker 

“Meet American’s Most Extraordinary Family: the Lowells of Massachusetts…. By the final pages of this volume, one feels deeply attached to the individual Lowells, while also exhilarated at having experienced this grand sweep of American history.” –  The Washington Post

“[R]eads like a fine novel… storytelling that James Michener used to do in his novels “Hawaii” and “Chesapeake.” – Connecticut Post

“A fascinating collective biography … paying tribute to both worthy individuals and everyone else in this prominent, complicated family,” – Booklist

“A significant achievement.” –  Library Journal

“A sturdy, busy multibiography of an eminent American family…  by a clear admirer and dogged researcher…”  –  Kirkus Reviews  


After discovering hundred-year old letters in a trunk in my  backyard, I set off on an exploration of the history of letter writing. Starting with the letters in the trunk, written by a boy to his mother from his childhood through his years at Princeton in the early 1900s and then as a young man in the Jazz Age, I moved on to historical letters, going all the way back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians, and then continuing on reading letters through the centuries, including letters in epistolary novels, my husband’s love letters, and the letters of my children. Signed, Sealed, Delivered; Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing is the story of my backyard discovery, and of my quest to discover what it is about letters that make them such a unique and lasting form of communication.

“Part memoir, part meditation, part artful history lesson…and part reminder to put a pen to paper when it comes to people we care about…” – Leigh Newman, Oprah.com

“A sweet-natured, well-written affirmation of the time-honored role of letters as a uniquely personal way to communicate.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Perfect for devotes of pen and paper… will likely inspire both old-fashioned letter reading and letter writing.”
Publishers Weekly

Sankovitch’s “review of the art of letter writing is a unique blend of personal and public history…” – Library Journal

“Sankovitch combs history to find exceptional correspondents…More survey than anthology, this book should encourage readers to search out and read the letters’ full texts.” – Booklist

“Nonfiction treats: The author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair eloquently tracks the history of letter-writing, and along the way reminds us of how a real letter establishes a personal bond between the writer and the recipient.” – The Sacramento Bee

“How sad to think our children may never get a letter from a friend or a lover, the art of both—the sentiment and penmanship—fading away like an old Polaroid. Nina Sankovitch’s lovely, elegant book about the intimacy of letters is rich with treasures from politicians, soldiers, mothers, prisoners, husbands, and wooers. It is a joy to read, savor, and remember.” – Lesley Stahl



In 2005, my oldest sister died of cancer at the age of 46. For three years I struggled with grief but it was only when I turned to books that I was able to find my way through sorrow. For one year, I read a book a day, 365 books written by 365 different authors. My year of reading was a year of escape and discovery, of comfort and of resurgence.  Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is my memoir of reading a book a day, and of all the lessons I learned. My soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss, hope, and redemption. I turned to reading as therapy, and found the power of books to help me reclaim my life.

Kirkus Reviews named Tolstoy and the Purple Chair an outstanding debut of 2011 and gave it a starred review: “This celebration of the richness of reading will reward anyone who loves to read…Intelligent, insightful and eloquent, Sankovitch takes the reader on the literary journey…even the well-read reader will be inspired to explore some of the books from this magical year.”

Independent Book Sellers named Tolstoy and the Purple Chair to their list of Great Reads for June 2011 and to their Summer 2012 Paperback Next List. Caitlin Doggart, from the independent book store Where the Sidewalk Ends on Cape Cod, wrote for the group, exclaiming: “the best description of the power of books that I have ever encountered!”

O Magazine , June 2011, listed Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as a book to read now: “Anyone who has ever sought refuge in literature will identify with Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.”

The Los Angeles Times wrote: “The beauty…lies in seeing how books intertwine with daily life, how very much they affect our moods, interactions, and how we recover and process our memories.”

The Christian Science Monitor listed Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as one of  “the smartest nonfiction titles for summer reading” and “a tribute to the power of books to enrich our daily lives.”

Publisher’s Weekly called Tolstoy and the Purple Chair “an entertaining bibliophile’s dream …  Sankovitch champions the act of reading not as an indulgence but as a necessity, and [her memoir] will make the perfect gift from one bookworm to another.”

BookPage described Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as an “affectionate and inspiring paean to the power of books…Sankovitch gracefully acknowledges that her year of reading was an escape into the healing sanctuary of books, where she learned how to move beyond recuperation to living.”

Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post wrote “how lucky we are to experience her journey in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Who knows how many people will find comfort in this beautiful little book in the months and years to come?” and in his review wrote, “[Tolstoy and the Purple Chair] digs deep into that near-mystical connection between a reader and an author—that startling feeling that you are channeling someone you have never met…A gripping and inspiring book.”

“An original and touching account of one woman’s lifelong affinity for books and her attempt to channel that affinity to deal with her grief after her sister dies. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is an understated but moving story about the effects of a ‘year of magical reading.’”
The Dartmouth