George, Being George edited by Nelson Aldrich Jnr Random House HK$240 The use of oral biography to tell the story of a celebrity is a risky nod to the full life and broad mind of the subject. A good celebrity oral biography needs a subject with lots of notable friends. It helps if those friends hint at competing agendas or contradict each other to cement their version of the life. And it is just about crucial that the life has a few contradictions, a handful of failings for the friends to rip open or skip over. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Crystal Zevon's 2007 slant on her former husband, songwriter Warren Zevon, showed celebrity oral biography thrives only when the subject is a nasty artist. George Plimpton might as well have written a mandate for an oral biography on his life when he edited two such books, on actor Edie Sedgwick and writer Truman Capote, before he died in 2003. But he is also perfect for the form - even though he was thoroughly pleasant - thanks to a vast collection of friends from an astonishingly successful networking career. Hence George, Being George: George Plimpton's Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals - and a Few Unappreciative Observers. Plimpton's blue-blood upbringing led straight to the heart of the literary world and on to outright celebrity as one of the most famous American writers from the 1960s to the 1980s. The Plimpton persona of the gentleman amateur allowed him to create his own pocket of participatory journalism. He used his fame to set up magazine articles about standing in as the quarterback for the Detroit Lions, he boxed against world champions, played golf on the PGA tour, swam against Olympic gold medallists and served to the top tennis player in the world. Plimpton's name is so firmly connected to The Paris Review that he is often mistakenly called the founder of the literary journal. The job was handed to him by friends, writers Harold Humes and Peter Matthiessen. But with wealthy friends to call on for support, Plimpton kept the Review going for more than five decades. Friends, including Matthiessen, suggest that by the end of his life Plimpton clung to the Review as his most significant legacy. Throughout George, Being George is the sense that Plimpton spent so much time having fun that he missed out on fulfilling his potential as a writer. As a student at Cambridge he went to the kind of parties that Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, attended. As an adult he threw the parties that Jacqueline Kennedy crashed. He slept with the most sought-after women. A first date might have involved a dinner party that ended in helping John F. Kennedy escape his security team for a dance club and putting the president in a cab for home. When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, Plimpton helped wrestle the killer to the ground and pry the gun from his hands. Plimpton refused to talk or write about the experience. Novelist Jonathan Dee, a former Paris Review intern, notes: 'It's something, isn't it, that a man who made a career writing beautifully about his own amazing autobiographical exploits would never have touched the most amazing exploit of all, would never have written about it in a million years?' Plimpton frustrated those around him with a well-mannered inability to look at himself, perhaps limiting him as a writer. But friends and family eagerly fill the holes and amplify the contradictions. George, Being George brings together high society and the literary set for a polite dialogue loaded with jealousy, scandal and self-interest. Many stress the extraordinary luck that never ran out in Plimpton's life. Few begrudge his commitment to fun and most acknowledge that he let it spill into their own lives.