July 30, 1984 12:00 PM

by George Garrett

By 1939 when James Jones graduated from high school in the small Illinois town of Robinson, the Depression and the drinking of his father, a dentist, had ruined the social and economic standing of the family. Unable to afford college, Jones enlisted in the peacetime Army. The author of this biography, a poet, novelist, playwright and professor of English at the University of Michigan, ably re-creates this period of the writer’s life—helped a great deal by Jones’ autobiographical short stories. Jones’ career was marked by the extraordinary success of his first war novel, 1951’s From Here to Eternity, and the fact that nothing he did later quite measured up. Still, Jones endured and produced such novels as Some Came Running, The Merry Month of May (about his years in Paris), The Thin Red Line and Whistle, which was completed after his death by his friend Willie Morris. Jones’ work was distinguished by his ability to spin a story and a determination to get the facts—which he knew firsthand—exactly right. Burroughs Mitchell, one of his editors and a friend, said of him, “He did it his way. Jones never cared much whether he was fashionable or unfashionable.” The book is illustrated with dozens of photographs (this is the second in the HBJ Album Biographies series), in which Jones invariably looks like a tough bulldog: unsmiling and often barechested. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $18.95)

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