Lever is the French editor of the Marquis de Sade's correspondence, and thus in a particularly good position to check and curb much of the mythical fervor that surrounds the writer everyone thinks he knows all about and almost no one does. By modern French surrealists and leftists, Sade has been championed as an archangel of revolution, of sexual revolt; by the general public, as evil and cruelty incarnate. The facts support both and neither, though Lever works upon the framework constructed most seminally by Gilbert Lely in the Fifties. Sade's noble Provencal family related to Petrarch; his feverish libertinage and real crimes of perversity; his first imprisonment (during which he wrote the first of his novels, The 120 Days of Sodom); his second imprisonment, during Robespierre's Terror; his authorial ambitions (not especially pure or demonic sometimes: Sade acknowledged the popular taste for ``spicy books'' when he was writing Justine); the two remarkable women who put up with him as wife, then companion; his rearrest and reimprisonment during the Napoleonic reaction to Jacobin excesses; the end of his days spent in the mental ``hospital'' at Charenton, where Sade ran the loony bin's semi- psychodrama theatricals. What Lever brings across, in a vigorous, unpedantic, well-translated style, is how much (and also how merely) a writer Sade would become--with the largeness and smallness that goes with it--after his aristocratic sexual frenzies burned themselves out early in life. Like many writers, Sade thought most about money. But nobleman that he was, he knew nothing about people; and Lever is right to mention (though the book is almost devoid of literary analysis) that Sade's greatest distinction as an imaginative writer was to create a self-contained repetitious rhythm--of impossible sexual acts that have no relation to what real people would do (or want to do)--the likes of which have never been repeated in prose. Demythologizing, level, and consistently fascinating. A must.