Kiernan admired Steinbeck's writings, and found the man, on two brief meetings, less than likable. He is writing, he says, to expLain that seeming disparity between author and books, to tell how Steinbeck ""worked out the conflict between his actual self and the self he yearned to be."" The remit is Pop Literary Psychology I. Here, for instance, is his pronouncement on Steinbeck as a boy of nine or so: ""With his immersion in the Arthurian legends and the subsequent cultivation of his own narrative powers, young John began to shed some of his demoralizing shyness and open himself up to the world."" This stuffy clinical analysis--interspersed with comments on Steinbeck's unfortunate looks, his early fecklessness and later marital woes--yields a tintype of Steinbeck as an opportunist in his choice of working-class subjects, an impressionable, derivative thinker, and not even, most of the time, much of a writer. Or at least what made him a powerful, if often tacky writer--and a festering personality--is beyond Kiernan's ken as he prissily and platitudinously talks about the ""fusion of form and content, idea and technique, that constitutes literary art"" in order to single out for praise Of Mice and Men. True, he relates the circumstances under which each of the books was written and charts the ups and downs of Steinbeck's life; but as a ""first full-scale biography"" this is a stiff, drab, peevish affair.