Joseph Cornell, an American artist most famous for his quirky shadow boxes, is astutely revealed by Wall Street Journal art critic Solomon as a shy, complex figure--even more enigmatic than his art. Cornell's shadow boxes and collages played on juxtapositions of common objects--pictures of ballerinas and movie stars (his Marilyn Monroe file predated Andy Warhol's), bits of costumes, pennies, feathers. Understanding his work requires making connections among these odd bits. Solomon (Jackson Pollock, 1987) likewise sifts through the seemingly disconnected minutiae of the artist's life and pieces together a convincing portrait of the man and his work. It's been hard to label Cornell: His genre-bending art has been linked with Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and eventually Pop Art. Cornell's life, spent in New York City, similarly defies classification, providing none of the usual seedy grist available to biographers of famous artists. He was for most of his life a virgin. He catered to the whims of his overbearing mother and cared for his sickly brother in their small house on Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens. His pleasures were small--sifting through trinkets in five-and-dime stores for objects to use in his art, riding the old Third Street El, and consuming an alarming amount of sugar. Cornell's diary, a hodgepodge of 40 years' worth of notes, includes catalogs of sweets the artist ate and annotations on the many infatuations he developed--from the great 19th-century ballerina Fanny Cerrito to a down-on-her-luck waitress. Cornell, ever the observer, was socially awkward: A movie clerk once mistook his hastily offered flowers for a gun and called the police. Solomon intertwines a secret, small life with the great artistic movements of the century and tells a story that will intrigue even those who know nothing of the artist's work.