If diamonds are a girl's best friend, then pearls are her lifelong companions. At least that's the impression left by this elegant ode to the world's most precious beads. At first glance, Pearls appears to be all about the pictures. Here's Daryl Hannah, draped only in multiple strands and a white blanket. There's Grace Kelly in a ladylike choker. Why, after all, would anyone want to read 225 pages about a shiny bauble secreted by an oyster?
For many reasons, as it turns out. Hackney and Edkins wisely allow fascinating historical figures and celebrities to drive their narrative. In one memorable passage we learn of a massive pear-shaped pearl presented by an explorer to a Spanish king some four centuries before Richard Burton gave it to Elizabeth Taylor as a $37,000 Valentine's Day gift in 1969. Such intriguing tales—of royals (from Elizabeth I to Princess Diana), society icons (including Jackie O, who, like Coco Chanel, wore fakes) and movie stars (from Lillie Langtree to Uma Thurman)—elevate People & Pearls from the shallow depths of the coffee table to place of pride on the bookshelf. (HarperCollins, $40)