Books: Rich Man, Poor Man

IRWIN SHAW: A BIOGRAPHY

by Michael Shnayerson

Putnam; 447 pages; $24.95

When he was young and poor, Irwin Shaw wrote well. His first play, Bury the Dead, was an emblematic work of social- protest theater in the 1930s. His lyrically realistic New Yorker short stories in the same era expanded the form's horizons, and, because he made it look easy -- almost fun -- to be so good, they became inspiring, formative experiences for several generations of writers.

When he was old and rich, Shaw wrote poorly, at least according to critical consensus. The only horizon his mighty best seller Rich...

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