A smart, absorbing blend of criticism and biography that demythologizes the writings of Britain's premier postwar dramatist. London theater critic Billington draws on interviews with Pinter (born 1930), his friends, and his co-workers to explore the links between the writer's personal experience and such plays as The Birthday Party and Betrayal; screenplays, including The Servant and Remains of the Day; and numerous television and radio dramas. This penetrating book discovers a good deal of autobiography in works previously thought to be forbiddingly abstract and philosophical. Billington argues persuasively, for example, that the frequent portraits of male camaraderie in Pinter's plays are based on the tightly knit group of boys with whom he formed lifelong friendships during their youth in London's Jewish East End. The critic's careful explication also convincingly refutes the idea that Pinter made an abrupt shift in the 1980s to become a ``protest'' playwright; Billington shows that the early works, which unflinchingly depict personal struggles for power, were just as politically charged, albeit more covertly. Some points are debatable, such as the contention that Pinter takes an essentially feminist view of male/female conflicts, and Billington tends to make all his points rather repetitiously. The book deals fairly evenhandedly with the combative playwright's private life, although his first marriage, to actress Vivien Merchant, is described almost exclusively from Pinter's point of view. (His second wife, historian Antonia Fraser, gets gentler treatment.) These are forgivable faults in a generally solid piece of research combined with a thoughtful analysis of Pinter's place in contemporary theater. Billington's knowledge of world dramatic literature and theatrical history puts his American colleagues to shame. Pinter's work has been obfuscated as often as illuminated by critics over the past 40 years; Billington combines intelligence with accessibility to create a fine theater book for the general reader.