Rashke, best known for The Killing of Karen Silkweed, here offers a sympathetic but unvarnished biography of William Powell Lear--the irascible, hard-drinking philanderer whose inventiveness helped make the skies safer and more convenient. A high-school dropout, the self-taught Lear held over 150 patents when he died at 75 in 1978. Among other accomplishments, he engineered the circuitry that led to a static-free car radio during the 1930s. Though perhaps best known for the hot-rod executive plane that bears his name, Lear also developed the first practical direction finder for civil aircraft, the first autopilot for military jets, and the eight-track tape systems. He made and lost at least four fortunes during an incredibly productive career marked by an unwillingness (or inability) to focus on manufacturing once a project's interesting design problems had been solved. Rashke does a first-rate job of putting his subject's contributions to the state of the avionics and airframe arts into accessible perspective. He logs the flops as well. The text includes knowledgeable coverage of a third-generation fan-jet for the corporate market (which has yet to be certified by the FAA despite an investment exceeding $250 million) and Lear's quixotic efforts to create a steam-driven alternative to the internal-combustion engines used in motor vehicles. Insofar as possible in the case of a man who had four wives, seven children, scores of mistresses, and countless liaisons, Rashke makes sense of Lear's chaotic personal life. In professional pursuits, he seems even less a role model. Along his errant way, Lear worked and invariably broke with a host of other electronics industry pioneers--Vince Bendix, Paul Galvin (founder of Motorola), Fred Link, P.R. Mallory, et al. Rashke's extensive interviews with family members and former Lear associates, plus access to a wealth of archival material, give real dimension to his fast-paced account of an authentic, larger-than-life genius in consequential conflict with himself and his environments.