So where was she? Where in God's name was Betty?"" Cohen's opening sentence refers to a 1969 attempt by Betty Friedan and several other NOW women to bid (successfully) for media attention and get a bite (unsuccessfully) at the Plaza Hotel's all-male (from noon to three) Oak Room. It also sets the hyperbolic, hard-breathing tone that pervades this history of the women's movement. Magazine writer Cohen follows this brouhaha with now-familiar biographies of the early years of four of the movement's stars: Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, and Germaine Greer. Nearly a third of the book is consumed before Friedan--by then the controversial author of The Feminine Mystique--and a group of female state officials sketch out a plan for the National Organization for Women. Its purpose: to pressure government and private institutions to give full equality to women. Its early agenda: an equal-rights amendment to the Constitution, paid maternity leaves, child-car tax deductions, access to contraceptives and abortions. While mainstream NOW moved toward these goals, a radical fringe created a media sideshow by attacking the nuclear family, linking lesbian rights to the movement, and all but banning males from the human race. Friedan also feuded with Steinem and Millett, and faded as the movement's moving force. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Act banned job and other sex discrimination: help-wanted ads became unisex, state-laws against contraception and abortion were overthrown, and the states began voting on the ERA. In an epilogue, Cohen reprises the defeat of the ERA and analyzes the enormously changed situation of women today. Cohen's style may be perfervid, her structure as fractured as the movement she describes, but her pages crackle with such energy that they almost turn themselves.