Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Germaine: The Life of Germaine Greer

How do you write an authoritative biography of a living subject who won't participate in the project? If you're Elizabeth Kleinhenz (A Brimming Cup), the answer is, with the help of a resource unavailable to the subject's previous biographer: the Germaine Greer Archive at the University of Melbourne.

Greer was born into a lower-middle-class Melbourne family in 1939. From her convent school, she went to the University of Melbourne, where she studied literature and became recognized as much for her flamboyance and sexual boldness as for her brilliance. Greer's further scholarly pursuits, as well as her diversions, which included immersing herself in her generation's rock scene and cofounding a pornographic magazine, informed her landmark feminist work, The Female Eunuch, published to international acclaim (and some bafflement) in 1970. The book argued that women's true sexuality is their path to freedom because, as Kleinhenz summarizes Greer's thesis, "the bodies of women have been effectively castrated for the convenience of men." Kleinhenz doesn't skimp on her subject's sexual adventures (some with famous men), and she animatedly covers Greer's literary output, public missteps and delight in publicity, the gist of which is captured in several of the biography's dozen-odd photos.

In her introduction to Germaine: The Life of Germaine Greer, Kleinhenz writes that her ambition is to measure her subject's influence on second-wave feminism. While Kleinhenz isn't starry-eyed about Greer, she occasionally overreaches, as when she says that her subject is "probably the best-known feminist of the twentieth century." Gloria Steinem's acolytes might say otherwise. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer