By L.S. Klepp
Updated April 18, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

Kenneth S. Lynn, a professional historian as well as biographer, dislodges large chunks of history from under Charlie Chaplin’s derby. While drawing deeply on Chaplin’s own autobiography, he delivers much that the silent-film star left out about his childhood, marriages, and naive pro-Soviet politics. He traces the evolution of the Tramp character from the cruel slapstick pranks of the early two-reelers to the sentimental idealism of the feature films. Lynn doesn’t get to the bottom of Chaplin’s penchant for teenage girls (his wives were 16, 16, and 18 when he married them), but does get near the bottom of Chaplin’s humor, which relies on the Tramp’s ambiguity — man and child, rogue and innocent. Charlie Chaplin and His Times is a judicious, far-ranging book that will draw in even those who think that Chaplin’s a classic but that Laurel and Hardy are funnier. A-