Alexander, whose last book was a biography of Sylvia Plath (Rough Magic, 1991), takes on another promising but doomed artist-icon. Dean, Alexander claims in the first of many debatable assertions, ""brought something new to sex -- an ambiguity, an openness, an androgyny that had not been there with other Hollywood stars."" In no small part, he argues, that quality grew out of Dean's own conflicted feelings about his sexuality, which Alexander says was predominantly that of a homosexual. He recounts the by-now familiar story of Dean's brief life: his out-of-wedlock conception leading to his parents' marriage six months before his birth; his mother's death when he was nine; his father's handing him over to cousins who raised him as a son; his attraction to acting; his difficult relationship with his father; his struggles in Hollywood and New York; and his gradual rise to stardom, cut short by his death at 24 in an auto accident, leaving a legacy of three starring roles and a veritable cult of worshiping fans. What Alexander adds to this story is some potted and misleading social history, explicit tales of sexual encounters, and a great deal of unsubstantiated and highly speculative psychobiography recounted in tedious, overheated prose. The book is riddled with errors, calling Robert Lindner's Rebel Without a Cause a novel (it was a nonfiction book about psychopathic murderers), misidentifying Gary Cooper as the star of Shane, and calling Dos Passos's USA an ""epic poem."" Alexander is unenlightening about Dean's acting style, his films, or his enduring appeal. The book has nothing new to say, and says it badly.