26 of Stein's Esquire columns--most of them brisk, even-handed, go-it-alone pronouncements on personal morality. Stein is a nonbeliever who wishes he could find a ""moral community"" to hang onto, but reluctantly (and rather hastily) concludes that there's ""nowhere to go."" So he improvises--though he sometimes appears to be dusting off, in a thoroughly secularized, situational fashion, the good old Decalogue. Thus, he's down on adultery (cheating ""generally makes most everyone involved feel rotten""), dishonesty, detraction, gross egoism, ruthless ambition, shameless ass-kissing, vengefulness, conformism, etc. One can hardly imagine anybody using the pages of Esquire to preach unbending, unworldly virtue; and Stein doesn't. He steers clear of absolutes and hardliners. Though there's more than a hint of priggishness in his claim that ""I myself have frequently made choices in the name of ethical purity and have paid the price,"" Stein almost never pontificates. The stories he tells about himself (swiping a magazine from Le Drugstore and being caught, agonizing with his girlfriend over her abortion, trading insults with a bus driver) present us with as vulnerable and fallible a human being as one could wish. Even when he lays down the law (""I discovered that even the murkiest of grays resolved on closer examination into either black or white""), Stein is refreshingly candid. While hardly profound or innovative, these mini-essays have colloquial energy and at least a smidgen of the true Socratic spirit.