Engrossing portrait of the millionaire/eccentric who, despite his determination to be more than the stereotypical playboy, frittered his fortune away in a series of misguided projects, four ill-starred marriages, and a dazzling array of acquiescent and acquisitive women. Gubernick, a senior editor at Forbes magazine, maintains a fast pace in telling the Hartford story, spicing the narrative with revealing anecdotes about such diverse featured players as Richard Nixon, Errol Flynn, James Agee, and Salvador Dali. Born in 1911, George Huntington Hartford was destined to be the heir to the vast A&P grocery fortune. His father died when the youngster was 11, and during adolescence and early manhood, ""Hunt"" was dominated by his social-climbing southern belle of a mother. Newport, St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, and the capitals of Europe were the scenes of his upbringing. Finally out from under his mother's influence when he married at 20, the young heir ($100 million) set about establishing himself, he hoped, as a cultural force in America. During his career he was responsible for financing, among other edifices, a museum on New York's Columbus Circle, a theater in Hollywood, and the Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas. All eventually failed. In addition, he produced a magazine noted primarily for its pretension, one highly regarded film, and a Broadway play that Brooks Atkinson dubbed ""two parts Jane Eyre, three parts East Lynne."" The major problem, it seems, was that Hartford was basically reactionary in his taste and was determined to reform what he saw as runaway modernism. All this Gubernick relates with a fine sense of brio and an appealing sense of sympathy, though never outright approval. Moreover, she brackets her narrative with a pair of stunning reports on visits she paid to her now nearly penniless, drug-addicted, and reclusive subject. A mesmerizing tale, splendidly told.