Biography of Broken Fortunes

by Jane Maher. Archon, $22.50. Garth Wilkinson James and Robertson James, brothers of William the noted philosopher, Henry the famous novelist, and Alice the ambiguous invalid, were unsuccessful blunderers at almost everything they tried. They were expected to blunder, because their interests were not of a sort that their father could understand. Neither could James senior appreciate the effect on two teenage youths of Civil War service in the Massachusetts black regiments—service which required moral as well as physical courage. James biographers generally draw a veil over crippled Wilkie and alcoholic Bob, but Ms. Maher has devoted her book to them, and the effort proves to be worth reading, not only as an example of parental myopia but as a vivid, if restricted, piece of social history.