In this latest series of exploratory essays Hoagland again lopes intently through rural and urban populations, now ""rooting around on riverbanks and mountain slopes. . . looking for that missing piece,"" now back in the city ""gobbling up the blocks."" He weaves in and out among wolves, bears, dogs, even a cannibal newt (""spruce as a bugler, tall as a tiger""); bright-eyed and bushy-tailed businessmen who could ""bowl over any wolf,"" and himself basking like a lizard on a city pier. Hoagland takes account of the vanishing ""wildness"" which, now that our world is becoming exclusively human, is more or less a matter of a ""sniper gone haywire up in the bell tower."" But he exposes a cheerful underbelly to cynicism: if we are to do away with nature, we must, as our animality permits, exploit our amazing ability to adapt. In a way the world is roomier--""cheap instant travel, swift risk and misery, wars marbled with primeval terror, old-fashioned loneliness and poverty,"" and also scholarship and experiments in pleasure. One can pursue many lives at once. Outstanding among the essays is a sustained and searing probe of American antebellum slavery. Touring some historic Southern mansions, Hoagland reaches the heart of darkness: ""slavery was wiring that you were hitched to: wired to the acid batteries of a crazy brain."" A superior collection, muscular and free-swinging.