Thirteen years (1952-64) of letters from James Beard, with just enough interspersed replies from West Coast culinary colleague Helen Evans Brown to reveal that more of her voice would have improved this volume. Harcourt Brace editor Ferrone offers excerpts from 300 of approximately 450 extant letters. The documents have been edited silently, and the man who emerges is convivial but shallow and in some ways insecure. These pages are dominated by what Beard cooks and eats and with whom he is eating. (Not surprisingly, the need to diet is a recurring theme.) While readers may cull a few ideas (in addition to those in recipes at the end of the volume), ultimately they receive a picture of a limited person: Who else could lunch with Alice B. Toklas and record only what they ate? Who could dine with wine expert Alexis Lichine and name the foods only, not the wines? Occasionally, others in the culinary field come under Beard's critical eye, with Dione Lucas, a ""great technician who doesn't know about food,"" earning particular attention. In 1952, Beard writes, ""I am always poor nowadays,"" and this becomes a familiar refrain, despite a full (and lucrative) schedule of writing books and articles, giving classes and demonstrations, appearing on radio and television, and acting as a corporate consultant. Brown, for her part, resists suggestions to move east and join his schemes for a cooking school or supply store, and her rare comments add some needed spice. (It's interesting to note that Beard had actually proposed publishing their joint correspondence, then discarded Brown's letters.) It is Brown who chastises Beard for publishing individually some material they accumulated for a joint cookbook and reminds him not to insult women cooks: ""They buy most of your books."" More a parade of menu items than a life, this one is bland reading for all but the most serious students of the Master.