`Helen Keller: A Life'

By Dorothy HerrmannKnopf, $30, 394 pages

In the dark Alabama night, the young woman waited on the porch, holding her packed bag. Twice before, her attempts to marry her boyfriend, Peter Fagan, had been thwarted by teachers and family. This was the couple's third try. But Helen Keller would wait all night for a man who never came.

Later, Helen Keller would describe her days with Fagan, the only boyfriend she ever had, as "a little island of joy surrounded by dark waters."

As a new biography reveals, Keller's desires for ordinary happiness - for her own door key, for a husband and children - were cut off by prejudice and people who wanted to mold her into a pure, saintly image.

In this biography, Dorothy Herrmann taps an impressive array of letters, journals, books and even Keller's FBI file to find the human being behind the "institution" that Keller became. The book doesn't, and perhaps can't, answer some key questions, especially about how Keller felt about some of those close to her. The biography also leaves this reader frustrated, wanting a better description of how it felt to be Keller, to experience the world through just three senses: touch, taste and smell.

- Diana K. Sugg

The Baltimore Sun

`The Experts Speak';

By Christopher Cerf

and Victor Navasky

Villard, $15 paperback, 445 pages

An "a-ha, caught you" opposite of the typical book of quotations, "The Experts Speak" is subtitled "The definitive compendium of authoritative misinformation." The volume, expanded and updated since its original 1984 publication, is packed with final-sounding pronouncements uttered anciently and not so long ago on such topics as science, sex, religion, politics and the future course of events.

Ptolemy, for instance, is credited with announcing that " is once for all clear . . . that the earth is in the middle of the world and all weights move towards it." On a less heady topic, Elizabeth Taylor declared in 1974 about her marriage to Richard Burton: "Nothing will ever separate us." Five days later the pair announced their divorce.

Utah and Utahns come in for a share of the ribbing. The University of Utah's cold fusion brouhaha of 1989 gets parts of two pages. ("Cold fusion may be man's greatest discovery since fire," said then-Rep. Wayne Owens.) Sen. Orrin Hatch prompts a blink with his opinion that "Capital punishment is our society's recognition of the sanctity of human life," though some readers will fathom what he meant by that.

If ever there was a testament to keeping your mouth shut, "The Experts Speak" is it.

- Ray Boren,

Deseret News

`Stalingrad'

By Antony Beevor

Viking, $35, 494 pages

With the world talking about "Saving Private Ryan" and the horrors of combat, it is useful to remember that the most terrible battle of World War II came not with the D-Day landings but with the savage four-month German-Soviet battle of Stalingrad.

Put it this way: The Normandy landings resulted in some 10,000 Allied battle deaths. During the nightmarish months of total war at Stalingrad, the combined battle deaths exceeded 1 million. The sheer magnitude of the carnage in what many military historians see as the turning point in the war - are marvelously captured in Antony Beevor's new history, "Stalingrad."

Beevor, a former British army officer and the author of several other studies of war, provides a vivid and detailed account of the Stalingrad conflagration.

- Richard Bernstein,

New York Times News Service