by Martin Bauml Duberman
Knopf; 804 pages; $24.95
The Rutgers class of 1919 had big plans for its valedictorian: by 1940 he would be Governor of New Jersey and "leader of the colored race in America." As Martin Bauml Duberman observes in his compassionate biography, extravagant predictions were still being made for Paul Robeson 21 years later. The son of an escaped slave had already risen to international celebrity as a singer, actor and public speaker, and no limits were set on his future. Hardly anyone foresaw that he was standing on the edge of an irreversible decline.