Few writers live lives of such fecund bitterness as Maxim Gorky (whose psuedonym, in fact, means bitter). Little orphan Gorky worked as a ragpicker in Nizhni Novgorod, ran off to the Volga. At nineteen he shot himself through the chest, but lived. A supreme beatnik, his brow seemed permanently stunned by misery as he hoboed about Russia. His first stories were about humble, moral, inferior, defeated people. But for all his immersion in the sordid, his writing was far from realistic and poured a gold dust of romance on his derelicts. He formed lasting friendships with Chekhov and Tolstoy who gave him the kind of criticism most writers only get in heaven. It is a pleasure to watch Chekhov exhort young Gorky to ""write a play""--and then have the elder writer roll a red carpet for him into the Moscow Art Theater. He joined Lenin in the Revolution, then retired to write his autobiographical masterworks and magnificent portraits of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Indications here are that he was finally murdered by Stalin. This biography, while colloquial, gives a striding picture of the man although Richard Hare's Maxim Gorky (Oxford-1963) achieved a higher literary level.