Mao biographers start out with a considerable handicap--without access to archives and unedited papers, they have to construct Mao's life from a distance. Wilson, claiming no scholarly intent, draws on all the available published material which deals in any way with Mao, and tries to compensate for biases and inaccuracies by balancing them off against each other. The early life is by now well-known, thanks largely to Edgar Snow's 1936 interview with Mao, which is still the best source; Wilson plays up Mao's early rebelliousness against his father and other authority figures to no great benefit. There follow the familiar twists and turns of Mao's political career, from student activist to Communist Party leader, with more attention then usual to his successes with a variety of women (as discreetly suggested in various memoirs of colleagues). Overall, Wilson portrays Mao as an earnest amateur scholar who wanted to be a great thinker, and as one who could not tolerate the competition of superior minds. It is this negative quality, Wilson thinks, that led to Mao's purges of Liu Shao-chi and Lin Piao--and left him without the talent necessary to implement his grand schemes of socialist transformation. By focusing so narrowly on Mao, Wilson disregards the larger context of competing sources of power--state administration, party bureaucracy, army--that renders this interpretation absurd; Mao and Liu represented two very different visions of socialism which are lost in a concentration on personality conflicts. Wilson does make good use of Roxanne Witke's biography of Mao's wife, Chiang Ching, balancing it off with the current regime's hostility toward her; but the complexity of this husband-wife relationship remains clouded behind the lack of untainted documentation. More up-to-date than any other biography, but readers of recent books on China will find nothing new or startling here.