Who was Alexander Wilson? A man whose life would make a good magazine article or an interesting chapter in a collective biography. Stretched to book length, however, he poses the sorry problem of a biographee in search of a readership, which may prove as elusive as some of the birds Wilson sought. He was the ""Father of American Ornithology."" He had talent and energy, but he was doomed to obscurity by competing with people who had more. The earnestly self-taught poet and sometime weaver was in losing competition with Robert Burns during his youngmanhood in his native Scotland and his monumental study of American birdlife was quickly superceded by his younger contemporary Audubon, who was the better painter and more original in posing birds naturally against a background. Mr. Plate's dual biography of two early paleontologists (The Dinosaur Hunters) revealed his aptitude for writing about science and history and for analyzing character and motivations. He has done his best by Alexander Wilson. Nevertheless, the book does go on at greater length than seems necessary to cover this subJect meaningfully for this age level.