September 09, 1985 12:00 PM

by T.S. Matthews

This book is an assortment of brief portraits about many people, some famous, whom the author, a former TIME managing editor (1943-49), has known. Matthews was born in Cincinnati in 1901. His mother was a Procter of the P & G family, his father an eminent Episcopalian churchman, eventually a bishop, and his life brimmed with fascinating characters. His aunt ran through a fortune rebuilding a French village after World War I. Matthews’ father-in-law was a painter and dandy who fantasized he would invent some kind of gadget that would make him rich. The most interesting of several classmates Matthews describes was Chanler Chapman, an overpowering eccentric who inspired Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. Because of his job, Matthews also knew such people as Adlai Stevenson (a Princeton classmate), James Agee, Gertrude Stein (there’s a wonderful portrait of the celebrated Stein) and Winston Churchill. One of the most interesting profiles is of ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers, who became a TIME senior editor. Matthews describes Chambers’ controversial career with affection and fresh insights: “He saw life as a tragedy, and he lived it as he saw it.” Despite the snobbishness that colors these pieces, the author is an accomplished storyteller of an era that now seems to belong to the distant past. (Ticknor & Fields, $17.95)

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