Books: Prodigal Nomad

An unflinching but fond look at a golden rascal

Bruce Chatwin always seemed almost too good to be true: an "alarmingly handsome" golden boy who became a director of Sotheby's at 25, quit to go to Patagonia and came back with what the blurbists now call "the most influential travel book in the English language." In his address book Jackie Onassis sat next to an oryx herder, and in his prose he'd characteristically present himself talking to a priest while the man "knifed out the eye of a young guanaco."

In the wake of his almost insolent success--first-time author at 38 and icon of literary chic by 41--it has...

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