Prolific historian, collector of rare prints, and professor of film at New York University, Everson must have screened more movies than Irving Thalberg, and this ambitious volume detailing the first decades of cinema is lively, wise, and--as one would expect--brimming with little-known facts and apt conjectures. Who else has seen, much less discussed, the 1913 Danish ""masterpieces"" Atlantis and Evangelist's Life? Written not to replace but to coexist with Kevin Brownlow's looser and more personal The Parade's Gone By, Everson's history traces the silent era from the 1877 invention of still photography in motion (traditionally attributed to Muybridge, but really civil engineer John D. Isaac's idea) through the last classic silent Western--John Ford's Three Bad Men--and Garbo's adieu to the silent screen in The Kiss. Nearly a third of the book is devoted to the genius of D. W. Griffith, but lesser-knowns from Edwin S. Porter (Griffith's counterpart at Edison) to William Seiter (among the Twenties' ""most reliable directors"") also have their day; and a ""virtually unknown"" 1904 Edison movie called The Land Beyond the Sunset merits nearly a page and a haft as ""the screen's first genuinely lyrical film."" Approaching the silent film not as an atavistic form of the talkie, but a medium alien to it, Everson deals with silents as art and industry; weighs the relative importance of directors, actors, and the generally overlooked art and production designers; and recalls a time when exhibitors bought movies by the foot. Though he dips into all the genres, he gives short shrift to Chaplin, Keaton, and the other comics--understandable, with fine books like Kerr's The Silent Clowns available, but a gap nonetheless. Comprehensive otherwise and always probing, this latest survey is not to be outranked.