Lessing, as this second installment of her autobiography again proves, is one of those rare writers who has lived the examined life and is willing to share what she has learned and done, even if it is not to her credit. Unlike the first volume of memoirs (Under My Skin, 1994), the personal narrative takes second place here as Lessing concentrates on the intellectual and ideological forces that affected her during the 1950s. She arrived in London with her young son, Peter, in 1949, after leaving her second husband. London was still a bleak and bombed-out city--housing was short, food was rationed, and the people were enervated. Lessing found a good agent and managed to live on her earnings as a writer. She describes her mother's lonely death in Rhodesia, caused in part, Lessing thinks, by her rejection of her mother's offers of affection and support. She does not slight the personal or domestic: She worries about raising Peter as a single parent, and frankly describes her two lengthy affairs. But it is the world of ideas, of publishing, writing, and the theater, that primarily engage her. She describes how she writes and what she tried to achieve in writing her immensely influential novel The Golden Notebook. She is frank about joining the Communist Party (probably "the most neurotic act of my life"); about her disillusionment with it and other mass movements ("the first impulse was the thrills . . . secondly came the politics"); and she is angry and insightful about the British, who suffer, she says, from "a reluctance to understand extreme experience." A history of a difficult, often grim time related by an astute observer, as well as a truthful record of a bumpy journey to self-knowledge. Further proof, if it were needed, of Lessing's remarkable ability to look reality in the face and not blink.