Forty-one essays of varying length and profundity on the state of the nation, and three poems for good measure. McCarthy gracefully if fitfully surveys such institutions as the presidency (""Leadership should be almost a residual function of the office,"" not its loudly trumpeted raison d'etre, ""because the potential for leadership in a free country must exist in every citizen""); such adjuncts of post-Kennedy democracy as the cult of the expert (an unfortunate contribution to the over-insulation of presidents from the people); such broad questions as the relative merits of amendment and statutory legislation in keeping the Constitution abreast of current realities. McCarthy eulogizes such honorable Americans as the late Wayne Morse (whether as a Republican or a Democrat, ""always on the edge of defiance and challenge""). The tone of the writing is that of McCarthy's campaigning and legislative styles: the accomplished and capricious dilettante, rising unexpectedly to heights of wit, passion, and commitment that make you forget your impatience. He rarely develops an idea with real rigor or tenacity, never links separate observations into unified vision, cannot resist interrupting even the slenderest train of thought for the sake of elegant doodling (see the very funny remarks on the ills of our cities that occupy nearly a quarter of a sketchy tribute to Lewis Mumford). One would enjoy these vagaries in a speech, but they read less well. It's hard to tell in what direction McCarthy's thinking has moved since '68; he likes to float discreetly to broad generalities that leave unexamined the particulars of the two-party system, inflation and recession, and how to resist executive encroachment on Congressional prerogative. He remains long on charm and originality, master of the poised apercu or ironic understatement, fastidiously his own man. A trial balloon for '76?