Maurois ends the enormous, sprawling life of Balzac with the question, ""But who would wish to be Balzac?"" A man's query perhaps. A woman might write to him admiringly, at first anonymously, as so many did then. What Maurois evokes here so strongly is the writer and the lover and the always hungry dreamer of fame, greatness and happiness. Balzac's feats were prodigious. Hounded by creditors throughout his life, he bought antiques and jewelled walking sticks, and indulged in one ruinous financial deal after another. He worked for months at a frenzied pace. With a passion for unity, he tried to make a comprehensive world from his many works-- ""La Comedie Humaine."" He was lover to many women but he loved only two-Madame de Berny, his mistress in youth and twenty years his senior, and Madame Hanska, whom he married just before his death. Most of the time the narrative is just shy of the many quotations. Maurois is a little like the wise ""friend of the family"" who tells the story with all the intimate speculations, small reproaches and loving (sometimes sentimental) praise one might expect. Names, places and figures abound, and while many of these particulars are only scantily examined, one doesn't mind. Such a French abundance of ""givens"" is in keeping with the rush and energy of Balzac's life. There are good but simple summaries of Balzac's thought but for the most part this close biography draws one headlong into a fantastic life.