This biography, much discussed even before its publication, is as mammoth as Brando himself -- and a compelling read. Most of the details supplied by Manso (Mailer: His Life and Times, 1985, etc.) regarding Brando's myriad peccadilloes, sexual and otherwise, are essential for a complete picture of an unusually complex and distasteful human being: self-absorbed, manipulative, a poor parent, and a user of women. (No doubt Brando will present a different picture in his autobiography, which Random House will publish this month; no advance galleys are available.) Born in 1924, Brando was the son of two ill-matched alcoholics. His mother, with whom he had an almost incestuously close relationship, was a free-thinking bohemian; his father was a pompous businessman with a penchant for shady dealing. Brando was a troubled and troublesome boy who was thrown out of several schools and never got a high school diploma (though he later became a voracious reader). When he moved to New York City to pursue the theater as a career, it was his close relationship with Stella Adler, who taught him acting, that grounded him. After receiving excellent notices in several smaller parts, his dazzling performance in A Streetcar Named Desire led him to Hollywood, where, as Manso observes, he established ""his indelible, transcendent image as a genius among actors."" Manso is good at eliciting from Brando's colleagues a sense of his unusual working methods and startling flair for improvisation on camera. Regrettably, Brando's ambivalence about his work and his self-indulgence off camera resulted in a self-loathing that affected his acting. Until The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, most people in the film industry were prepared to write him off as a spent bullet. Manso traces Brando's involvement in the American Indian Movement, his long-standing love affair with Tahiti, and the gruesome story of the shooting of his daughter's boyfriend by her half-brother Christian. To Manso's credit, the book is neither a hatchet job nor a bronzing. His biggest weakness is an inability to relate the actor to his times in a specific way, falling back instead on a laundry list of current events. Nevertheless, a page-turner that will fascinate even Brando's detractors -- maybe especially them.