A methodically reasoned alterative view of Beckett that follows the playwright and novelist from his birth until age 40, when he began to find himself as a writer. Gordon (American Chronicle, not reviewed) parts ways with the popular understanding of Beckett as a grim, rattled existentialist introvert who barely clung to sanity. She explores his life within a larger historical context, following him from his conservative, morally minded, upper-class rearing in a well-heeled suburb of Dublin, to his academic and athletic successes before and during study at Trinity College, his rebellious immersion in bohemian Paris and in economically devastated 1930s London, and finally his involvement as a WW II Resistance fighter in France. Gordon's craft and her scruples are impressive. Rather than argue at length with biographers who have presented Beckett in a different light, she seeks to put us in his shoes by describing in detail, for example, the probable impact on Beckett of his close friendship with James Joyce in terms that help us to feel it, and the political-cultural circumstances leading up to the rise of the Vichy government so that a reader can judge Beckett's likely motives and emotions in opposing it. Her approach is bold, yet measured. Avoiding extensive discussion of his work and choosing not to emphasize the testimonials of people who knew him, Gordon relies mainly on external events to support her thesis. Of course, her conclusion--""Beckett was not a fragile and reclusive man set apart from the real world. He was a sensitive and courageous man marked by and responsive to the world""--is arguable, but she significantly extends the scholarship about her subject. The clarity of Gordon's writing, never marred by willfulness or anxiety, is ideally suited to posing her challenge. Her study also draws us in by sheer narrative force. An exemplary glimpse of a literary enigma.