Her evaluations of the various novels are not always in line with more conventional criticism. She is less than thrilled with Bleak House, a favorite of academic critics, and much more admiring of Our Mutual Friend. She says that David Copperfield is "perhaps his greatest" novel — not your typical judgment. She prefers A Tale of Two Cities to Little Dorrit, and she doesn't seem to value either Hard Times or Great Expectations quite as highly as most modern critics. Whatever her judgments, she always supports them with such interesting readings of the text that they merit serious consideration.
As far as Dickens' life is concerned, she makes sure to cover most all of the significant events: his parents profligacy and his shame at being forced to work in the blacking factory, his court reporting and his transition to fiction, his American tour, his public readings, his marital troubles and his questionable relationship to Ellen Ternan. She shows his good sides and she shows his warts. He is a man of many contradictions. He could be as generous as the Cheerybles, and as money grubbing as Miss Havisham's relatives. He could be as steadfast as a Woodcourt and as careless as a Steerforth. He can aspire to the nobility of a Sidney Carton, and act as autocratically as Mr. Dombey. If he doesn't always practice the Victorian values that his novels seem to preach, Smiley seems to suggest, it is because he is more modern in both his writing as well as in his living than most modern readers give him credit for.
Smiley paints a portrait of Dickens as one of the first examples of public celebrity so common in the contemporary world, but most importantly she sees him as the novelist who has come "closest of all novelists to delivering on that illusory promise of the novel — to tell everything there is to know about everyone, and to tell it in an incomparably fresh and delightful way." If you want a comprehensive scholarly biography with the latest information, you'd be better off with the Slater book, but if you're looking for a general introduction to man and his work—"growing intimacy," Smiley's book is both readable and illuminating.