Henry Scott Stokes, Yukio Mishima's first biographer, once told me that the thing he most remembered about the writer was his exquisite manners — one of those telling details that lend a touch of authenticity to the work of those who knew Mishima personally. Because biographies are such intensely personal works of interpretation, it is wise to read as many as possible on a single subject. In the case of Mishima, an entire field of scholarship has proliferated over the years.

Newer biographies must pit themselves against some formidable titles. Notable among these are "Mishima: A Biography," by John Nathan, who knew the writer and translated several of his works, Marguerite Yourcenar's brilliant psychological study, "Mishima: A Vision of the Void" and the recently published, and exhaustively researched, "Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima," by Naoki Inose and Hiroaki Sato. Other works, like Christopher Ross' "Mishima's Sword," explore themes tangential to his interests and obsessions rather than trying to lay bare the soul of the great writer.