Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu, by Simon Callow (Vintage, £8.99 in UK)

 

It is a truism that after the film Citizen Kane, much of Welles's career was an anti climax. He was immensely precocious, intellectually an adult by his midteens, and the White Hope label which hung around his neck may have been throttling in middle and later life. Still, Welles had an immensely varied, colourful and high powered life, so it is almost irrelevant to ask if, in the end, he can be considered as essentially an unfulfilled talent. His gifts, in any case, lay in diverse fields and one of the most obvious of them was his capacity for enjoying life at many levels. This much praised biography is long (600 odd pages) and dense, and it seems strongest on Welles's early years, which are probably the most interesting anyway. The illustrations are fascinating in their own right.