Phelan is the master curator of Hughesology, with twenty years immersion in his subject. In this bizarre and tragically funny book he sweeps away the early years of the Great Billionaire born on Christmas Eve 1905, and plunges into the appalling yeast of the mystery: the final years. His major sources are two of Hughes' most intimate bedside companions, but this is no ""as told to"" biography--all is smelted into Phelan's firm, deliberate style. Hughes lived in a ""traveling asylum"" and moved invisibly about the earth in a blacked-out bedroom ""cloned"" from all his blacked-out hotel bedrooms. As his male nurse said, ""They could have. . . repainted the bedroom and then told him he was in Acapulco and he wouldn't have known the difference."" Hughes' germ-phobia was compounded by his scopophobia, or fear of being seen. For his last ten years he was naked, bedridden, long-nailed, long-haired and looked like ""a witch's brother."" He was half out of it with self-given hypos, watching Ice Station Zebra over 150 times (he had the romantic parts cut out of his copy). He lived on cookies or tiny amounts of meat and could spend eight hours over one can of Campbell's chicken noodle--he died starved. Gone was the great playboy, pilot, womanizer, filmmaker, billionaire world-mover. He'd become the shadow whose every bodily move had to be ""insulated"" with Kleenex, whose every waking moment was cloaked with ritual. Meanwhile, power flowed about him like volcanic lava. Phelan also digs into Hughes' Mormon companions and touches on his official contacts, but he presents this book as only a first step in uncovering the empire's mysteries. The waiting audience won't be disappointed.