A loose, patchy, arty reconstruction of Modigliani's precipitous life, best left to those with the chronology firmly in mind (a table is appended); some knowledge of the artist, his work, his place in the scheme of things (such as lames Thrall Soby's 1951 MOMA essay provides); considerable tolerance for Fifield's gloating over particulars only he has got right, from addresses to the (unproven) swiftness of M's decline; and no end of curiosity. Life among the School of Paris principals--Picasso, Soutine, Leger, Valadon, Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Rivera--is a glut of boozing and ""banging,"" work, want, insults, suicides, pranks . . . some of it familiar, some newly told. About the intense, self-destructive Modigliani, who appears sporadically, Fitfield can manage only the trite conclusion that ""He took the drugs of an artificial paradise in order that the human condition be regained, fresh, passionate, unheeding."" The rages, hauteur, and suicidal bent are traced to M's two Sephardic bloodliness a preoccupation throughout. Ancestry also colors Fifield's artistic notions. Unlike Picasso, influenced by Congolese art-- ""Art Negre, primitive art""--Modigliani was influenced by Ivory Coast art, ""a long-ago importation from Egypt,"" Fifield asserts; but in fact Picasso also drew from Ivory Coast art, of a different tribal origin but not necessarily less (or more) ""Egyptian,"" and M's work has Congolese affinities of its own, The dismissal of Etruscan art as all Greek and other snap judgements are similarly untenable. A posturing book and not to be trusted but--like the 79-year-old beauty who alone may have held off Modigliani--intriguing.