RALPH Glasser, who has died aged 85, was famously the Gorbals boy who went to Oxford. His life, then, had all the cliches of a tale of rags to some kind of riches, but it had a substance, too. Glasser could never have been accused of living a life that was unexamined.

Those who read his trilogy of Growing Up in the Gorbals, Gorbals Boy at Oxford, and Gorbal Voices, Siren Songs as simply the tale of the physical journey of a Jewish boy to manhood, missed the greater significance of his work; Glasser was capable of producing an enduring narrative, but it was his self-searching that made much of his work irresistible. This spirit of indomitable inquiry was shown to its greatest effect in Gorbals Legacy, almost an afterword to his Gorbals Trilogy. If the reader is looking for tales of black sannies, dispirited men huddling on street corners, or the consolations of poverty, Gorbals Legacy is not the place to go.

It is, rather, the chronicle of an inner journey. It pays no service to the conventions of time. No dates are mentioned. The mundane world of jobs and money are ignored. It is a psychological, even spiritual, investigation of an individual psyche and its motivations and desires.

There is a tide of human experience and Glasser produced a singular, spectacular wave in his last words in print.

Gorbals Legacy looked back at a life that contained too little happiness but had ultimately produced a gentle acceptance of existence and more than a degree of contentment.

Glasser was was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who lived on the top floor of a three-storey tenement in Warwick Street. He was left motherless at six, cursed with a father who was an incurable gambler, and abandoned by two older sisters who fled the house.

He left school at 14 to became a soap-boy in a barber's shop and then presser in a garment factory. After each 12-hour day, Glasser would head for the Mitchell Library while his father headed for card schools or the illegal gambling dens that prospered in Glasgow.

Glasser studied studied diligently at night school and won a scholarship for Oxford University. He famously cycled the 400 miles to the land of the dreaming spires. From Oxford, Glasser went to work for the British Council and later into public relations and Third World consultancy. He became a distinguished psychologist and economist.

Glasser's life can be traced in his writings. The Gorbals boy has his say in the first part of the trilogy, Growing up in the Gorbals, which was first published in 1986. The second part, published two years later, begins on a note of triumph as Glasser heads to Oxford and is imbued with confusion as the author finds he has a room of his own for the first time in his life. The third instalment shows the once 1930s scholarship boy meeting some interesting people along the way: a helpful Jean Cocteau, a gun-totting King Farouk, Olivia Manning's husband Reggie Smith whom she immortalised as Guy Pringle in her six Balkan and Levantine novels.

Glasser's oeuvre was completed by a novel, The Far Side of Desire, published in 1994.

The journey Glasser describes both in fiction and non-fiction took him back to his Jewishness. Having almost forgotten Hebrew and the most simple ritual of the synagogue, he began afresh in London.

He did not fully engage with the Jewish faith but he did re-enter the Jewish community, noting: ''Here self-inquiry has taken me deeper than I ever imagined, to show me that nothing, no perception, no vision will ever answer the questions that possessed me when I left the Gorbals to cycle to Oxford.''

The search for these answers included a stay in San Giorgio, a small Italian village, and in Acharacle in the Highlands where Glasser, an adviser on environmental matters for the UN, attempted to find solutions for the wasteful way many communities lived.

This was typical of the restless seeking that so characterised Glasser. His solutions were then sought out by governments in East and West Africa, India, and Pakistan. He was a singular man, too, in at least one other respect. As Glasser himself was fond of remarking: ''In pre-war days for a Gorbals man to come up to Oxford was as unthinkable as meeting a raw bushman in a St James's club.''

Ralph Glasser is survived by his wife, Jacqueline, and two children, Roland Saulamd Miranda Rachel.

Ralph Glasser, writer, economist, environmentalist; born April 3, 1916, died March 6, 2002