Books: The Prodigal Painter

JOHN JAMES AUDUBON by Alice Ford. 488 pages. University of Oklahoma. $7.95.

The Frenchman who became the world's most celebrated delineator of birds was himself a bird of paradox. His name, until he anglicized it, was Jean Jacques Audubon. His adopted home was the U.S. And his natural habitat, proclaimed in assuming an additional name, was "Laforest." But a major part of his time was spent in courtrooms eluding creditors, in Europe's royal courts soliciting patronage, and in scientific academies quarreling with competitors.

Alternately driven and dreaming, irresponsible and ingratiating, mean-spirited and maudlin,...