In a perceptive and sympathetic account based on extensive research in archives and public records, Williamson (Humanities/Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; The Crucible of Race, 1984, etc.) offers some revelations about Faulkner's ancestry and background, along with a comprehensive commentary on the novelist's life and works. Ashamed of his background, Faulkner, Williamson tells us, spent as much energy reinventing himself as he did creating his fiction. Rather than his descending, as he claimed, from Scottish Highlanders or an aristocratic slave-owning southern family, Faulkner's paternal grandfather, ``the Colonel,'' was an eccentric businessman, while his maternal grandfather was a sheriff who shot the editor of the local paper, embezzled public funds, and ran off with a mulatto girl. Faulkner's fictions about his own life were similarly less colorful than reality. He represented himself as, variously, an RAF pilot wounded in WW I, a bootlegger, a gentleman farmer, and, in his final invention, as a gentleman equestrian who rode the Virginia hunts. In fact, Faulkner never flew and his farm was a failure. He began writing while tending a boiler all night, married a divorcÇe, and ended up raising and supporting her children and family as well as his own. His real-life travels, seductions, and alcoholic bouts--especially with Howard Hawks, Clark Gable, and Humphrey Bogart while adapting Hemingway's To Have and Have Not--are more interesting than his invented role as simple southern farmer, and than the other roles he assumed, such as literary ambassador (after his 1950 Nobel) and academic. Similarly, Williamson's Platonic schematization of Faulkner's work is less interesting than the intense experience and vitality of the fiction, which may or may not have had roots in Faulkner's life, culture, and beliefs. The biographical material here and the social history involving racial issues, sex, and class are especially significant- -but there's not much on the southern history of the title.