Bair, author of Samuel Beckett (a 1979 National Book Award winner), met with de Beauvoir for six years to compile this detailed biography of the writer best known for The Second Sex . She includes generous details about de Beauvoir's less attractive personal attributes (her slovenliness and self-centered behavior) and her questionable record during World War II. The book is an objective recording of events that shaped the life of a woman who, willingly, played down her own significant contributions to contemporary philosophical and political thought so as to remain Sartre's intellectual alter ego. Generous annotations document every chapter and provide material suggesting further research. An interesting, thought-provoking work that should dispel many myths, but Bair might well have given us a greater feel for the woman and emphasized her feminist stance.-- Danielle Mihram, Univ. of Southern California Lib.
This impressively researched biography by the author of Samuel Beckett is the most detailed account to date of the life and work of de Beauvoir (1908-1986). Based on many interviews, and discussing each of Beauvoir's works within the chronology of her life, Bair's magnum opus combines literary biography, intellectual and oral history and feminist theory, yet centers on de Beauvoir's extraordinary long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. Bair argues persuasively that de Beauvoir was affectionate, generous and witty, but also quirky, opinionated, witheringly honest and generally humorless. Awkard and ill-kempt, a woman who drank and cried to excess, she seemed unaware of her striking physical presence; she was nearly 40, contends the author, before she experienced an orgasm. Although never bound by the traditional constraints of marriage or family, she guarded Sartre jealously. Bair adds much to our knowledge of every aspect of de Beauvoir's life--her love affairs with Nelson Algren and Claude Lanzmann, her attitudes toward Camus, Giacometti, Koestler, Merleau-Ponty and many others--but, like Bair's own description of de Beauvoir's book on Sartre, the biography is sometimes ``detailed to the point of inducing fatigue and boredom.'' (Apr.)