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IN BRIEF

Non Fiction

February 16, 1992|CHRIS GOODRICH

SHADES OF GREY: Ordinary People in Extraordinary Circumstances by Barry Siegel (Bantam Books: $20; 304 pp.). No question--Barry Siegel, a roving correspondent for this newspaper, has produced a strong, early contender for Best Book With Worst Title, 1992. Just about everything is wrong with the title, just as most things about the book itself are right; "Shades of Grey" is in fact full of life and color, and deals with very interesting people whose stories are not extraordinary so much as overflowing with intellectual uncertainty. Ambiguity lies at the book's heart--that's what the title wants to get across--and Siegel deserves much credit for treating it as a fact of many people's lives rather than as something to be swept under the journalistic rug. Siegel catches people not when their conflicts are resolved, or at least well-defined, but betwixt and between: when research scientists disagree with physicians' use of their discoveries, when lawyers and judges find that existing law produces injustice, when doctors must determine with scant information the viability of a fetus. Siegel does the conventional reporting required in newspaper stories--most of those collected here were first published in The Times--but he goes further, getting many people to reveal their deepest fears and misgivings. A doctor unpopular in the medical community for pushing experimental gene therapy says he doesn't know if he's right, saying that "Most pioneers by definition flame out"; a young lawyer in a death- penalty case moves for a mistrial--based on his own failure to subpoena an FBI agent who might have cleared his client. This is superior journalism, dealing with what Siegel calls "continual, subterranean news," and one can only hope it's the start of a trend.

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