Subtitled ""Pacifist at War,"" this is the biography of the man who made The Nation into the best and most exasperating liberal journal of its day. Villard, the grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and the son of a Horatio Alger sort of millionaire, was himself, for most of his cantankerous life, ""the liberal's liberal."" He was said to have made ""more acres of public men acutely miserable per unit of circulation"" than any other editor, as he scrapped valiantly for the causes he believed in, from anti-imperialism during the Spanish-American War to nonintervention in World War II. First and foremost, Villard was a pacifist, and like every true pacifist, he did little else but fight. Mr. Wreszin has researched his subject thoroughly, and his particular emphasis -- upon the demise of the old-style liberalism which defined every issue in terms of ""inviolable absolutes""-- is well taken. Certainly, Villard's story thus told ""illuminates a major hazard of the twentieth century"": unfortunately, much of Villard the man escapes because one is drawn to the differences rather than the similarities between his dilemmas and ours. After all, he was right almost as often as wrong, and ahead of his time as well as behind it.