For those who love biographies, the biggest problem is probably that when they want to read about an artist, they don't know which book to choose because there are so many works about that famous person. Of course, it's only a problem for those who are not fanatic enough to read all the available books about an icon. And when I decide to read something authentic, entertaining and interesting, I turn to Henry Gidel.
The first time I heard of him was when I got his Picasso. I liked it that he managed to turn this book into something very much like a literary work yet he avoided being too literary (he never says "he thought to himself", something that I've met a few times in other books and that was a moment when I put them down, saying 'how on Earth would he know what he was thinking? He was not even born back then!') and it's also refreshing that in both fields of Picasso's life (women and art, and of course the mixture of these) he reveals the truth about certain legends. His accurate and amusing style led me to check what else he has written.
This is how I learnt about his Coco Chanel biography. Gabrielle Chanel was also legendary enough to make me want to read about her and once I am reading, I obviously want an authentic biography.
Since Gidel is someone who knows a lot about Parisian (or semi-Parisian) artists of the first part of the 20th Century (plus and minus 20 years), it is no wonder he decided to dig deep into the life of Jean Cocteau. This book is also important for me because beyond my respect for Cocteau, it mentions further facts about his friendship with Pablo Picasso.
And then, an other woman: Sarah Bernhardt and her rather American Dream-like life.
In brief: if you are planning to get to know the icons of the (near) past but want to avoid the dry academic phrases, Henry Gidel is your man.