I AM deeply offended by Deborah Tannen's comments in her review of Robert Bly's Iron John (Book World, Nov. 18), to wit: "It hardly seems that most men have rejected the sword, when child abuse, rape, wife-beating, street crime and war are increasingly evident." How dare Tannen imply that "most men" are guilty of such crimes? Where are her statistics to bear that out? Tannen knows that all of those crimes are perpetrated by only a tiny handful of people. Moreover, females are known to practice those crimes as well as males. Her comments are bigoted and deplorable, as is her cheap tactic of inserting her own little sexist commercial into the review. She has no right to suggest that such criminal behavior is typical of all males. What if she had written the same sentence, but prefaced it with: "It hardly seems that most blacks have rejected the sword . . ." Obviously such a sentence justly would have been attacked as bigoted stereotyping, and surely would have been edited out.

I am deeply disappointed that you permitted such a cruel and unfair statement to find its way into your publication. Surely men and women can discuss their roles and differences without resorting to such gutter-level tactics. TIMOTHY J. RYAN Alexandria

Deborah Tannen responds: I am sorry Timothy J. Ryan was offended. Of course not all men perpetrate the violent acts named, and I did not intend to imply they do. But neither are such acts perpetrated as often by women as men. As for statistics, according to the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1 of 3 women can expect to be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and 99 percent of sexual assaults are committed by males. That males as a group are more violent than females is a universal of human nature that no expert denies. Indeed, the idea that "the warrior" is essential to male consciousness and distinguishes it from the female is one of the main points of Iron John.

I am grateful to Ryan for the chance to clarify the point that the statement to which he objects is a variation on a point made repeatedly by Bly, as for example, in his preface: "The dark side of men is clear. Their mad exploitation of earth resources, devaluation and humiliation of women, and obsession with tribal warfare are undeniable." "The warrior mode," he writes later, "has a poisoned or negative side. The warrior's twisted or poisoned side amounts to brutality, pillage, insistence on unconditional surrender, mindless killing, wife-beating, rape, betrayal of all the King's human values." I am sure that Bly did not intend, any more than I, to imply that all or most men are guilty of such destructive aggression. Rather, his point, like the one with which I concluded my review, is that ritual expressions of "the warrior" are needed to allow men to "modulate out of aggression through display, form, and ritual." One More for the Gipper

JONATHAN YARDLEY'S long and thoughtful review of former president Reagan's autobiography, An American Life (Book World, Nov. 4), contains a rather startling error of historical fact concerning what is perhaps the most important thing Reagan did.

Yardley says Reagan was "either disingenuous or self-deluding" when he wrote, "The journey leading to arms reduction wasn't going to be short or easy. And I knew it had to begin with an increase of arms . . . If you were going to approach the Russians with a dove of peace in one hand, you had to have a sword in the other," and then concludes, "to be sure that's how it worked out . . . but Reagan is asking us to accept ex post facto claims about his original motives and intentions that are unsupported by either the historical record or our individual and collective memories."

What Yardley says is the conventional wisdom, but it is wrong. I know of at least one small part of the historical record that tells of the strategy that Reagan spelled out during the 1980 campaign. I wrote about it in Revolution (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988). I know this is heresy, but Reagan did have a grand strategy, and I heard it from his mouth with my own ears.

As I wrote, on page 72, "The concern about nuclear war, and the challenge to diminish the threat of that war was always foremost in his mind. It was not something he talked about a lot in public. But he had strong feelings, and strong convictions about what could and should be done. He had a grand strategy, never fully articulated, that he relentlessly pursued. The strategy was simple and elegant, and quite radical."

Then I spelled out the six specific steps of that strategy.

I can understand why Yardley wrote what he wrote -- some persistent untruths about Reagan seem to permeate the very air in Washington. But I hope he will check out this matter, because the charges he has made against our last president, if untrue as I believe, are damaging to his reputation. MARTIN ANDERSON Senior Fellow Hoover Institution Stanford, Calif. In Search of Authenticity

STEVE COLL'S "Letter from New Delhi" (Book World, Nov. 25), surprisingly, for so astute an observer of Indian affairs, ignores some of the more glaring gaps in the contemporary Indian literary scene. There is hardly any serious fictional treatment of socially significant themes, like the omnipresent bureaucracy and the scabrous poverty and unrelenting factionalism of the Indian countryside. Indian novelists in English have been more adept in experimenting with magic realism than in portraying the everyday travails of the common man coping with the Byzantine artifices and crass venality of a million jacks-in-office, or with that slough of despond, Indian courts of law.

There has been no Indian Kafka, and Mulk Raj Anand's splendid trilogy -- The Untouchable (1935), Coolie (1936) and The Village (1939) -- has had no successors, except for Raja Rao's Kanthapura (1938). The cruel agonies of caste and communal conflict have yet to evoke the fictional counterparts of the richly sensitive South African novlists -- Alan Paton, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. One searches in vain for "authenticity" in Indian fiction in English at a time when Naipaul's Million Mutinies are fast yielding to a Million Anarchies. Where indeed is the Great Indian Novel? There is equally a conspicuous lack of anything like a balanced and purposive tradition of literary criticism. There is only the stark polarity of the barely veiled hatchet review and the courtier's panegyrics. Indian literature still awaits its F.R. Leavis. ANAND CHANDAVARKAR Washington