THE PROTEAN American novelist Norman Mailer (1923-2007) has been the subject of four or five biographies and well over 1,000 interviews, profiles and critical studies. He was also the most public American writer since Mark Twain, constantly giving lectures, appearing on television, participating in demonstrations, and campaigning for himself and others.

(He ran for mayor of New York City and even contemplated running for president.) So we all know Norman Mailer, right? No matter. J. Michael Lennon’s massive “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” proves to be the best literary biography we’ve come across in years. It might weigh four pounds and tempt one to skim, but to my surprise I found myself savoring it over several weeks, because every page was delightful, insightful and compelling.

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