If there is any category of religious book traditionally more hopeless than the ""lives of the saints,"" it is that of the lives of founders of religious orders. The latter are usually written by members of the orders whose founders are to be immemorialized by the books; and, like dutiful children, the authors dare not hint that their subjects were human beings, let alone that they were not full-blown, halo-crowned saints. Incredibly, this biography of Jean-Claude Colin, founder of the Marists, was written by a Marist priest--""incredibly,"" because the book is not only an objective depiction of an engagingly human character, but it is also written in a style that has hitherto been foreign to this kind of book: literate, simple, lucid, often witty, always realistic. The eighty-five years of Colin's life (1790-1875) were years of upheaval, glory, and blood in the history of France, and the author manages, with a deft and unobtrusive touch, to convey much of that color to the reader. Despite the qualities of this book, however, it is still for the ""special"" market, and will have little appeal for the general reader. But perhaps Father Hosie will be consoled by the knowledge that he has dealt a mortal blow to the unholy tradition of confusing hagiography with biography.