With all the drama and intrigue of a rollicking adventure novel, Alexander's beautifully written and painstakingly researched book goes a long way to rehabilitate one of history's most notorious villains: ''Bounty'' commander Lieut. William Bligh. Her Bligh is an uncompromising leader bound by a fierce sense of duty, not the ''sadistic bully'' immortalized by Charles Laughton in the 1935 film. And the often romanticized Fletcher Christian, first mate and chief mutineer, is portrayed here as a hotheaded opportunist provoked by wounded pride and heavy drinking. Through letters, court testimony, and personal diaries, Alexander vividly re-creates the mutiny, the details of which changed, ''Rashomon''-like, depending on the crew member telling the story.