The vital, changing Central Europe of today is brilliantly evoked in these historical, impressionistic, and speculative writings by Ash (The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 1984). Focused on Poland. Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany, almost all these essays were published in the late 1980's in the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and Granta. The essays reflect Ash's own ""interest in ideas, rather than armies, cultures rather than economies, nations rather than political systems and, above all, individual men and women, rather than amorphous collectivities."" His title piece on Poland, dated June 1985, for instance, tells graphically of a nation whose culture of Catholic Church, intellectuals, and workers is set against the state. Polish leaders of this adversarial culture are heroes who set examples for others of their countrymen to live as if theirs was a free country. Notwithstanding the vitality and relative freedom of the culture, Ash asks, ""How can a country prosper when the best part of its educated class refuses, or feels unable, to collaborate in running it?"" One need only think of 1989 and a democratically victorious Solidarity's reluctance to share stale power to realize how prescient these writings are. In a reprinted scholarly address, ""A Few Ideas. . .Nothing New,"" Ash speculates on the future of the European character in the face of a potential for the re-Balkanization of Europe upon the steady weakening of the Soviet empire. In an ominous reminder that Europe's strife-tom nationalities ignited two world wars and a holocaust, he states that it serves just as well to talk of European ""barbarousness"" as of ""civilization."" As to the future of Central Europe, Ash uses the analogy of the decline of tire Ottoman Empire lo predict a slow, piecemeal process whereby these states emerge through halfway revolutions combining with reform lo achieve ""emancipation in decay"" An indispensable book on the future of Central Europe.