...a more sober assessment of Duke’s life and accomplishments ... Bingham adds a trove of new material to the Duke oeuvre, including revealing quotations from letters and details of daily life on Duke’s many estates. But she is allergic to telling the story in chronological order. The book jumps back and forth in time so often that there’s no coherent narrative or character development. The biography is also weakened by Bingham’s hedged presumptions of what Duke was thinking or knew ... Bingham recasts Duke’s life — often portrayed as a miserable and frantic search for love and acceptance — into a more exuberant account of the experiences and opportunities of her era, as well as her serious quest to be useful and recognized for her artistic talents and eye.
Sallie Bingham’s admiration for her subject pervades the biography, which is not surprising. Herself raised in privilege in a Louisville, KY, newspaper dynasty, and a philanthropist, Bingham is well suited to tell this story ... There are some problems with this otherwise competent biography, including dry patches bogged down with minutiae, marbled with facts and details that do little to advance or inform the narrative ... At times it is also chronologically erratic.
Bingham chronicles the adventures and heartbreaks of the tabloid-hounded 'richest girl in the world,' from her childhood in the family’s opulent Fifth Avenue mansion to her lavish Hawaiian sanctuary, Shangri La, now a museum housing her pioneering Islamic art collection ... Fiercely private and skilled in conducting her extraordinary philanthropic work, Duke, Bingham asserts, hasn’t received the respect she deserves, an omission roundly corrected by this vivid and sensitive portrait-in-full.
... illuminating ... Drawing from personal papers archived at Duke University, which bears the family’s name, as well as correspondence, journals, and reminiscences of friends and associates, Bingham eschews scandal to concentrate on the elements that shaped Duke ... Bingham is a generous biographer in this exacting, measured work.
Although the author had access to a huge archive of Duke’s personal papers, none of these included diaries, journals, or more than a few letters. 'Nothing,' Bingham notes, “that has been written or said about her can be proved—or disproved.” The lack of revealing material proves a challenge that the author fails to fully overcome ... Bingham, too, remains silent on the matter of Duke’s sexuality, emotional needs, and any glimpse of her inner life ... An unsatisfying portrait of a complex woman.