Plumb's essays on English 18th-century history range from a firm rationalist attack on the mystifications of Edmund Burke and his cult to a tentative exploration of changing social attitudes toward lunatics. Among the most suave and solicitous of British historians, Plumb is his most enjoyable when he takes leave of Georgian politics; and while his consideration of the ""Royal Porcelain Craze"" which swept European courts from Dresden to Versailles does not shed much light on the coming of the French revolution or the rise of the middle class, it does show that there's much to be learned from social fripperies. The second part of this eclectic collection in fact leaves the 18th-century altogether with Plumb taking some freewheeling leaps into women's lib, the ""dying family,"" the contemporary youth revolution and the urban ghetto riots. ""In the Light of History"" Dr. Spock is acquitted of rearing a generation of irresponsible brats, though parents are unlikely to find his judgment that adolescents today are ""rebelling against four centuries of repression and exploitation"" reassuring. Most of these short pieces have appeared before in a scattering of historical and popular journals. A lighthearted tone and occasionally cavalier use of political analogy animates the collection as a whole without detracting from Plumb's impeccable scholarship.