La Streisand, warts and all, in this unusually thorough and perceptive biography. Streisand presents something of a paradoxical challenge for biographers. Even detractors cannot overlook the sheer range and magnitude of her talent, the powerful, perfectly modulated voice, her abilities as an actress and a director. But even admirers cannot ignore her egotism, her control mania, her self-righteous stance as a perpetual victim. Given these difficulties, veteran celebrity biographer Edwards (A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn, 1985, etc.) walks the tightrope of fairness with remarkable ease and grace. Streisand once summed up the double standard by which she felt she has been judged by noting, ""A man is commanding--a woman demanding. . . . A man is a perfectionist--a woman's a pain in the ass."" Sexism in Hollywood is still a problem, but as Edwards makes clear, much of Streisand's controversial behavior has stemmed not so much from her experiences in show business as from her miserable childhood. Her father died when she was very young; her mother never provided the love and uncritical support she craved; she did not possess conventional good looks. Yet these miseries also fueled her ambition. As she once remarked: ""I wanted to prove to the world that they shouldn't make fun of me."" Edwards traces Streisand's long, determined climb to stardom, describing in detail her career on Broadway, her albums, her work in Hollywood. She argues persuasively that Streisand's fear of failing, the insecurity that stretches back to her childhood, has been the dominant element in her life: ""Nothing was ever enough. She had to prove herself over and over and over again."" There are times, though, when Edwards skims over events, such as Streisand's break-up with longtime lover Jon Peters, to dwell on their psychological meanings, to little effect. Nonetheless, this is clearly the best account of Barbra Streisand in all her contradictory, difficult glory.