A look at Klaus Barbie; The Butcher of Lyon, by Brendan Murphy. New York: Empire Books. 336 pp. $13.95.

The trial later this year of Klaus Barbie for war crimes is the latest chapter in the life of the unrepentant Nazi who boasted: ''I am a member of the SS. . . . Do you really know what an SS soldier is? He is a superman.''

Obersturmfuhrer Barbie, known as the ''Butcher of Lyon,'' allegedly deported or ordered the murders of thousands of Resistance members and Jews in southern France during World War II. German Beate Klarsfeld, whose husband lost his parents in the Holocaust, ''was driven by the inactivity of others'' to track Barbie to South America, where he had lived for 30 years as a respectable businessman - advising military governments and smuggling weapons on the side. Earlier, the United States government used the Nazi's intelligence contacts to uncover communists in Europe and then permitted Barbie to fade into obscurity.

Author Brendan Murphy has written one of the most articulate studies of a former Nazi to date - concise and unflinching. If Adolf Eichmann represented ''banality of evil,'' as philosopher Hannah Arendt termed it, Barbie's role was ''utility of evil,'' Murphy says. That is, Barbie made himself useful to the powers-that-be to ''ensure his survival.''

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