[Hirshey] is a studious and generous biographer, embracing the philosophy of the Crunch gym chain — 'No judgments' — when approaching her subject. The debate about whether Brown was good for feminism does not interest her. 'She was a realist,' the author writes, 'not a revolutionary.' This attitude has clear advantages. It frees Ms. Hirshey to do a compassionate, psychologically complex biography, arguing the world from her subject’s point of view. Brown, who could run the risk of appearing like a caricature, never once does so here...At 500 pages, though, this book could have lost about a third of its weight without readers’ noticing.
...Hirshey’s book—once it gets past its bitter complaint about the Hearst Corporation’s virtual gag order on quoting Brown’s office memoranda—is a bit more like a novel in its attention to narrative tension and pacing and smooth writing. Moreoever, Hirshey cleverly transforms her final pages into something akin to an oral history, with several of Brown’s good friends—from the playwright Eve Ensler to Barbara Walters—chiming in.
Hirshey’s psychological insights into Brown’s childhood, as well as the book’s treatment of Brown’s long partnership with her husband, deepen and complicate the plucky image that Brown projected in public...But refusing to situate Brown in the current context seems like a missed opportunity.