In this meticulous authorized biography, Lennon offers a comprehensive and unflinching look at the life of the controversial American novelist, journalist, and filmmaker who dissected the zeitgeist from the 1950s until his death in 2007. Lennon, a personal friend and the literary executor of Mailer’s estate, had access to a trove of unpublished letters and interviews. The result, written in a measured and sometimes dry style, stresses the extremes of ugliness and compassion that defined the author’s life and work. Made famous by the publication of The Naked and the Dead, Mailer had a manic energy for writing and a roving intellect, thrusting himself into the center of current events and exploring topics such as Vietnam War protests and the history of the C.I.A. The prolific Mailer was also a public celebrity who made frequent television appearances and even ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of New York City. Though Lennon doesn’t hide Mailer’s dark side—his belligerent narcissism, infidelities, public drunkenness, and violence—he tries to balance these flaws by emphasizing Mailer’s passion for challenging received ideas, his sense of humor, and his moral seriousness as an opponent of power. While it’s difficult not to find Mailer the man repugnant, Lennon’s almost clinical perspective shows the author’s restless innovation, which was indispensable for understanding the U.S. in the second half of the 20th century.