If this had been published two years ago, it would have cracked an unprecedented market. The public for Baldwin was insatiable. He almost sated it, but it still exists. (The extent of his over-exposure can be gauged by Esquire's recent, impertinent question: ""Has LeRoi Jones replaced James Baldwin?"") Baldwin the novelist continues to magnetize serious inquiry--the sort once reserved for Faulkner and Hemingway in their own lifetimes. This initial biography is a serious effort, but more journalistic than literary. It is flawed by lack of perspective and a curious mixture of partisanship and attempted objectivity. Throughout the book, the author rushes in to rationalize the less palatable truths her own intensive research revealed. But she uncovers with the reaction to cover up--that Baldwin has edited his early and adolescent years, preferring them to be more horrific than his agemates and schoolmates recall; that Baldwin championing homosexuality offers stupid, perhaps self-satisfying, generalizatizations about Western culture; that Baldwin's appetite for the limelight and a retinue are in contrast/conflict with his artistic commitment; that Baldwin's ego can slash as deeply as it enthralls. There is a full Baldwin version of his headlined, highly charged meeting with Bobby Kennedy and Negro artists, sure to draw later reviewers' attention. And so will this book. It's the first of the Baldwin-up-'til-nows his genius is likely to instigate, friendly but not always gentle, and very readable.