Margaret Bourke-White cut a dashing figure from the start of her career in the 1920’s as she hung off girders and out of planes to get shots. Her profession took her worldwide, and her photographs of world leaders such as Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi have become part of the historical record. LIFE magazine was launched with Bourke-White’s cover photo and lead story. An elegantly attractive and adventurous woman, she was herself the subject of numerous news stories.
Working incessantly, Bourke-White documented Southern poverty, Nazi death camps, and wartime air raids. Her early taste for dramatic architecture and machinery gave way to an emphasis on the human condition and world events, photographed always in a distinctively stylized manner.
Bourke-White’s personal life was relegated to the spare moments of her high-powered career. Nevertheless, she managed to fit in some flamboyant affairs and two brief marriages. Vicki Goldberg strives for a psychological account of these relationships and assesses the influence of Margaret’s brilliant father and strong-willed mother.
Overall, one is left with an impression of a solitary, driven personality who cared for her trailblazing image and her photography far more than for her friends, family, or lovers, finding her identity in her accomplishments. Such a person is a difficult subject for biography if more than a compendium of worldly achievements is desired: The lack of narrative shaping in this book may reflect a fundamental lack in Bourke-White’s own life.