Shackled by police surveillance and czarist censorship, Alexander Pushkin--arguably the Russian Shakespeare, although few realized it during his life--could publish little that was both safe and up to his standards. Despite penury and political banishment, he produced works like Evgeny Onegin (1823-1831), the Byronic saga of a rake something like his young self, as well as Boris Godunov and The Bronze Horseman. As poet and novelist Feinstein (A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva) implies in her accessible biography, Pushkin was his own worst enemy. The impulsive, reckless, disheveled great-grandson of an African slave who was a favorite of Peter the Great, was his own worst enemy. He died, at 37, in a probably unnecessary duel, defending the honor of his wife, a frivolous, flirtatious St. Petersburg court beauty unworthy of his jealousy. The bicentennial year of Pushkin's birth in 1799 will spur other books, but very likely none in English will be more up-to-date in exploiting still-emerging documents about Pushkin's life and death. Feinstein's well-chosen extracts from the poet's writings illuminate his bawdy wit, his lyric intensity, his sensitivity to his attenuated but obvious African heritage, and his melancholy introspection. He once described a passionate woman he had bedded as ""A Comet without laws among/ The calculated round of stars""; in Feinstein's biography the words apply just as aptly to the great Russian writer himself. 22 b&w illustrations. (May) FYI: Serena Vitale's Pushkin's Button, one of Feinstein's sources for her account of the fatal duel, was reviewed in Forecasts, January 11.