In recent months, a manic Peter Griffin biography of Hemingway has followed hard on the heels of a depressive effort by Jeffrey Meyers. This new contender in the ""Let's Wring-Hemingway-Dry"" sweepstakes is, however, considerably more engaging than either earlier biography. There is no wolvish pouncing on Ernest's psyche here. Reynolds gives his subject some breathing space: placing his protagonist almost in the background, he offers--in place of psychological speculation--a variety of social contexts that help to throw light on the complex person that ""Ernie"" Hemingway became. Going back to Oak Park (the affluent, progressive-yet-parochial Chicago suburb where Hemingway grew up), Reynolds looked up the police blotter, the sermons of local ministers, the archives of the high-school newspaper. His deft intercutting of quotations from ""Oak Park"" sources helps to establish its undoubtedly formidable influence over young Emie. Indeed, at its best this book is less a view of Hemingway the individual than a group portrait of Middle America during the disillusioning transitional years from 1900-1920--into which a young Hemingway is convincingly inserted. The emphasis on social context allows Reynolds to avoid either hero-worship (Griffin's besetting sin) or personal criticism (Meyers'). Hemingway's gross exaggerations of his war exploits, for instance, are neither defended nor attacked: they are simply linked to Oak Park and what it expected of its boys when they went overseas. ""In Oak Park, only the extraordinary gained attention,"" and could Hemingway--the first American to be wounded in Italy--really go home and confess to Oak Park that he collected 200 pieces of shrapnel in his leg while passing out candy bars for the Red Cross? (Reynolds also points out that funding scandals had wracked the Red Cross on the Home Front--Hemingway was not the only returning volunteer who found his Red Cross affiliation an embarrassment.) Less convincingly, Reynolds links Ernest's lifelong cultivation of macho to Teddy Roosevelt and his influence on Ernest's whole generation of boys. On the whole, however, the emphasis on social context is highly successful: there is much new information and insight here, even for those who may already have acquired one or both of the other recent books.