If you only read one Howard Hughes book in your life, it might as well be this one, since Empire is the most rounded portrait of this bizarre man to find its way into print. Unlike other recent efforts, it does not single out his sex life or his phobias at the expense of describing his vast business interests and genuine talents. At 18, with the death of his toolmaker father, shy Howard became a millionaire industrialist, quit college, and grabbed the world by the tail. Wisely, he left the Hughes Tool Company in experienced hands and pursued a career as a movie producer. Here his meddlesomeness first bloomed and he soon became his own director, for the most part turning out turkeys; and once he took full charge of RKO, even his emphasis on Jane Russell's and Janet Leigh's measurements failed to save the company from financial collapse. His eagerness to be an aircraft manufacturer led him first into breaking world's records in new test planes, then on to disaster with the world's largest plane, the non-flying Spruce Goose, and a helicopter on which he lost money for every plane delivered. By the time he bought Las Vegas, his germ-phobia had crippled him as it had his mother and grandmother. He lost faith in himself, became too mentally paralyzed to negotiate contracts, and died after 18 years in sealed rooms attended by clean-living Mormons. If there are fewer yoks and Fu-Manchu fingernail episodes here, there is greater respect for the whole man and the sense of an epic, misguided life.