Bob Cannon
October 17, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In his 60-year career, Sammy Davis Jr. always gave the impression that his life was a total gas, babe. Wil Haygood’s incisive biography, In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr., reveals Davis hated his own blackness so much that he compulsively pursued white women and cackled at racial putdowns from his Rat Pack cronies. The era’s most dazzling entertainer was also its neediest, throwing endless parties and giving extravagant gifts (while piling up debts to the Mob and the IRS). Haygood traces Sammy’s motherless childhood spent on vaudeville stages, his chitlin-circuit adolescence, and his peak years as a star — drawing a chilling portrait of a complex man who came to personify Las Vegas’ flash as well as its lost soul.

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