We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

And the Verdict Is: Maybe D.C. lawyer Val Holley’s James Dean (St. Martin’s Press) is a judicious appraisal of the celluloid icon’s life—and his sex life in particular. “I had sources who called him “effeminate’ and sources who claimed he was never effeminate in the least,” Holley explains. “Both men and women came forward to say they were his sexual partners. Since he died at age 26, I think he hadn’t really decided who he was, sexually or otherwise.” In 1951, Holley writes, Dean sent a letter to the draft board in his hometown, Fairmount, Ind., claiming that he was homosexual. Fairmount was scandalized, and gossip persisted even after Dean’s fatal 1955 car crash and posthumous legend status. Holley speculates that Dean hoped to avoid being called up for the Korean War, but never establishes whether the star was in fact gay; Dean’s private identity proves difficult to distinguish from his screen persona. Overall, the author found, Dean was flip about deploying sexual labels, but also afraid of categorization. “I wanted to demythologize Dean,” Holley concludes, emphasizing that the star was “unreliable, erratic, cruel, and mercurial. But he was also a seducer par excellence.” Given Holley’s gift for sustaining ambiguities and refraining from judgments, it seems that 40 years after Dean’s death, the jury is still out.