This volume of sunny trifles has a bracing introduction:""...I have been writing for newspapers for half a century. I began by writing about G. Bernard Shaw, as he was known in those days, and I have concluded by writing about spring birds in the Catskill Mountains."" The winsome decline that these words suggest is very much evident in Atkinson's concluding selection of Critic at Large pieces from the Times, c. 1962-65. There is usually a bright opener (Buckminster Fuller chatting about building houses on the moon; famous wits who deplored Shakespeare) only to be followed by innocuous observations. The literary asides are genially misleading (Wilde had no ""style,"" Shaw was promiscuous as a young man); travels in the Soviet Union engender unexceptional cultural-political diagnoses; the Near East is rendered with guide book pleasantries and philosophical interludes (""A mournful archaelogist remarked the other evening: ""History is the record of the failure of human beings to learn the lessons of history""). No doubt one should be more indulgent viewing fugitive journalism. Atkinson is never crass, he twinkles now and then with Old Boston charm, plods industriously on and on. Still, as Beerbohm said: ""Ants set an example to us all; but not a good one.