A miscellaneous collection of nonfiction that will do little to enhance Doctorow's reputation as a writer. Almost all of the book reviews, speeches, introductions, and political commentaries included here were solicited by editors, and seem relatively uninspired. Doctorow's literary criticism is casual to a fault, revealing a not-surprising affinity for the social realism of "hack genius" Jack London, the materialist vision of Dreiser, and the antistatist satire of Orwell. Doctorow celebrates the signs of incipient feminism in Hemingway's unfinished Garden of Eden and shares Papa's monosyllabic style ("His stuff was new. It moved). A fierce if unoriginal critic of the Reagan years, he relies on boilerplate polemics: His Reagan-bashing profile is stale, and his Brandeis commencement speech makes a facile link between social decline and Reaganomics. His introduction to the Constitution as "the sacred text of secular humanism" is reader-friendly, but his bloated declaration of "The Beliefs of Writers" too readily accepts and expands Shelley's conceit that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Doctorow is much better--more in tune with his fictive voice--when he writes around a topic: His meditative re-creation of 19th-century Manhattan's sights and sounds is hypnotizing; an essay on "standard" songs demonstrates a true feeling for the culturally ephemeral; a memoir of poet James Wright and the Fifties at Kenyon is both moving and clearheaded. And "False Documents" should be read by anyone interested in Doctorow's use of history in fiction--it's the closest thing to a defense of his method as we're likely to get. Fourteen fugitive pieces by a major novelist deserve some attention, if only to illuminate his far superior fiction.