There are many Stevensons behind the initials RLS, but the one that has endeared him to readers for so long is surely the fighter, battling to stay alive. Jorge Luis Borges described his brief life as courageous and heroic. In Philip Callow's absorbing new biography, one can see why. Doctors, called repeatedly to what should have been his deathbed, would find a scarecrow, twitching and alive. A sickly child, Louis became in turn a bohemian dandy, a literary gypsy traipsing through the mountains of France with a donkey, and at twenty-eight the lover of an American woman ten years his senior, the fabulous Fanny. He escaped his Scottish town, his family, his friends who had mapped out a literary career for him in London, and instead went chaotically across the Atlantic and overland to California in poverty and despair to reach his beloved, whereupon he escaped into marriage and committed himself to being a nomad. He sailed the Pacific and dreamed of being an explorer; his restlessness was Victorian. With the power of a novelist and the grace of a poet (of which he is both), Philip Callow captures this great writer and his many contradictions. He was a born exile longing for home; a northerner who thrived on tropic sunshine; a near atheist who organized Sunday services for his Samoan workers. He has been called Scotland's finest writer of English prose, a more economical Walter Scott. As an essayist he equaled Hazlitt. In emotional crises he wept openly, to the embarrassment of his wife. "His feelings are always his reasons," said Henry James, and caught in a sentence the secret of Stevenson's popularity as one of the last of the classic storytellers. Louis brings him alive. With 8 pages of black-and-white photographs.