Though it begins with the statement that China has always been ""plagued"" by peasant revolt, this popular biography is less biliously slanted than Payne's earlier writings on revolutionaries. Payne has a firsthand acquaintance with China, the heart of the book is military rather than ideological battle. . . in short, for whatever reason, the tone is relatively sympathetic. Payne describes the young Mao as a scholarly Bazarov dedicated to the peasants. He sketches Mao's ""forerunners,"" then the 20th-century progressive thought and insurrectionary movements which conditioned Mao's Communist conversion. His account of the key 1925-27 period is oddly inadequate; given Payne's familiarity with both Chiang Kai-shek and the Comintern, his feeble, fractured remarks on the Chinese Communist collaboration with the Kuomintang seem inexcusable. The long fight against Chiang and the Japanese is quite effectively reconstructed from a military point of view. There is a critical precis of five major writings of 1938-41, and a chapter on Mao's poetry follows the story of Payne's 1945 meeting with him. Less than a fifth of the book is allotted to the past twenty years. Payne insists on equating the Party's takeover with Mao's takeover, from which he dates Mao's ""decline."" The book, then, presents Mao as a lone figure moving bravely across a shadowy background. It will be interesting to see whether Payne's forthcoming book on Chiang fills in the political dimension so conspicuously foreshortened here.