With fluent commentary and language, Franklin highlights the importance of autobiography in the African-American literary tradition. As Franklin (History and Political Science/Drexel Univ.) explains, autobiography has always been a powerful tool for people of African descent. The power of slave narratives, the first African-American autobiographies, was magnified by the fact that slaves were prohibited from reading and writing. The straightforward style of those narratives was imitated in the first African-American novels, such as Frances E.W. Harper's Iola Leroy, or The Shadows Lifted (1853) and William Wells Brown's Clotelle, or the President's Daughter (1893). The autobiographical tradition has always served the dual purposes of telling a good tale and ``testifying'' to racial injustices, as Ida B. Wells-Barnett did in her memoirs, where in 1928 she described lynching as ``an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and `keep the nigger down.' '' Franklin explores Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston and their battle over African-American language--Wright's fluid, incisive, literary tone versus Hurston's rambunctious rendition of the Southern black dialect. He also performs a careful reading of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but the best part of the book is his discussion of James Baldwin, in which he notes how Baldwin's dogged use of the first person in his essays, his willingness to expose himself, made his work so powerful. Franklin also shows how difficult it was for Baldwin to deal with both his race and his homosexuality in his early work (thus the white protagonists of his first overtly homosexual novel). As Baldwin later recalled: ``I could not handle both propositions in the same book. There was no room for it.'' Luckily, there's room for that, and more, here. Extensive research enlivened by a good critical eye and vivid writing distinguishes this thoughtful book.