An elegant, well-wrought, and objective biography of a complex but relentlessly unlikable figure. Posterity's picture of Evelyn Waugh has memorialized his frankly piggish demeanor as much as his elegant, barbed prose, and Hastings's sympathetic yet clear-sighted appraisal is likely to leave such impressions intact. Having broken free early from the stifling conventionality of an Edwardian childhood that is deftly sketched by Hastings (Nancy Mitford, 1986), Waugh liberated himself at public school and Oxford into his lifelong traits of snobbery, selfishness, barely veiled misogyny, and reactionism. Waugh's mundane origins notwithstanding, he managed to reinvent himself with spectacular success as spokesman for England's gilded nobility; hence one of the major satisfactions of any life of Waugh is the evocation of a vanished world of privilege. Hastings sets about this task with aplomb, bringing expertly to life personalities from Waugh's expansive acquaintance, famous (including Cyril Connolly and Nancy Mitford) and obscure (such as Alastair Graham, the ""original"" of Brideshead's Sebastian Flyte), in a series of vivid pen-portraits that delineate both their relationship to Waugh and how he represented -- or as often misrepresented -- them in his own writing. Hastings gives a full and revealing picture of Waugh's midlife conversion to Catholicism and the decisive impact this had on his subsequent self-image and work; her analysis of the sources and merits of Waugh's writing, too, is insightful and judicious. In the end, however, perhaps the strongest impression left by this biography is of a writer who like no other great (or nearly great) artist was possessed of so little basic human sympathy.