For most of its length, this is a thin-as-gruel recounting of the life of the Russian writer/revolutionary, by the author of previous biographies of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Turgenev. Drawing much of bis information from Gorky's own three-volume autobiography, Troyat produces a listless, two-dimensional portrait--until he turns his attention to the 1917 October Revolution and Gorky's subsequent career. Maxim Gorky's childhood and early manhood were Dostoyevskian--beatings, abandonment by his family, demeaning and short-lived jobs, near-starvation, aimless wandering. It is not surprising, then, that the young man dreamed of overturning the society that made these hardships possible. He soon linked up with other young rebels and began writing about the oppressed. His works found a wide audience, and he became a celebrity, feted by the proletariat, shadowed by the Tsar's secret police, friendly with Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders. Troyat deals with these facts in a cursory manner that gives few psychological insights; the narrative grows in complexity, however, once the Revolution breaks out. Gorky's role as spokesman of the new regime is investigated in some depth, as is his shortsightedness when viewing the excesses of the Soviet leadership: he was conspicuously silent during the Stalinist purges of the 1930's, and there are strong indications that he was intent on preserving his own economic advantages, which included mansions provided by the state and extended periods spent in Italy at government expense. Bair's translation from the French is workmanlike at best, though happily free of the slangy tone that has marred several previous Troyat translations. Sporadically interesting, then, but overall a disappointment.