Plimpton's first retrospective collection--and a splendid one it is--35 pieces covering 35 years' worth of witty, elegant essays on sports and celebrities, drawn from Sports Illustrated, New York magazine, and elsewhere. Plimpton is an Ivy League aristocrat who likes to play the common man. He is perhaps most famous for his ""participatory exercises,"" in which he exchanges his pin stripes and penny loafers for various items of grungy athletic gear. In the best of these escapades, he pitches against the National League in postseason exhibition, quarterbacks for the Detroit Lions in preseason scrimmage (""more than a few thought they were being entertained by a professional comic""), skates with the Boston Bruins, and flings horseshoes with President Bush. In one delightful outing, he goes to the World Series with Marianne Moore--who rewards him with a postcard of an anteater--and Robert Lowell, who looks ""truly bewildered."" Other celebrity essays cover the fantasy life of Alex Karras, Muhammed Ali praying before a big fight, and an obsessed Norman Mailer trying in vain to hit the ""Superman"" level on a strength-testing machine. The collection also includes memories of nighttime golf in the desert; a visit to the Harvard-Yale football game with his nine-year-old daughter; a hilarious parody of Truman Capote trying to write like Ernest Hemingway; salutes to birdwatching and fireworks; and Plimpton's classic put-on about Sidd Finch, the rookie pitcher with the 168-mph fast-ball. A funny, well-polished, and always benign collection, sure to boost Plimpton's reputation as a good-natured chronicler of popular culture.