...[a] concise and thoughtful new biography ... It’s among the satisfactions of Begley’s The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera that he delivers a subtle accounting of Nadar’s career as a photographer while reminding us of his subject’s many other talents and exploits ... It’s remarkable that Begley’s is the first [biography] in English. He’s found a great life to delineate — this book, like that life, roars past with a whooshing sound ... This story, in other words, would be hard to mangle, and Begley most assuredly does not.
Mr. Begley has combed through an array of literature, letters, guest books, invitations, drawings and other miscellany to tease out a nuanced portrait of one of the world’s first celebrity artist-entrepreneurs. Above all, though, it is Mr. Begley’s careful study of Nadar’s portraits of famous writers, artists, actors and composers (many of them reproduced here) that recommends The Great Nadar as a window on an era of extraordinary artistic endeavor.
Begley does a masterful job of evoking this milieu, whose members were sympathetic to the ideal of a republic, as the reign of King Louis-Philippe slowly lost its grip on the public imagination ... We can be grateful to Begley for capturing some of that quicksilver spirit, that quintessentially Parisian sensibility, which left us with images that are, in their bewitching way, timeless.