Hamilton's book reviews and ``literary articles'' cover a broad span of time and a wide range of interesting and uninteresting subjects. There's little here in the way of penetrating analysis or critical energy to lift these pieces beyond the time-bound immediacy of the column or weekly review. He leads with his best, the first piece being ``A Biographer's Misgivings,'' wherein he discusses his own difficulties in writing and researching the lives of the poet Robert Lowell and the elusive J.D. Salinger. Sorting through the conflicting versions of important episodes in Lowell's tangled life left him wondering ``which Lowell life'' he should attend to. The Salinger biography, of course, with which he hoped ``to arouse in Salinger a sort of grudging curiosity,'' ended in the famous lawsuit and the publication of ``the legal version'' of his book. Most of the other pieces are straight book reviews with little resonance beyond their first appearance. His look at two widely different Sylvia Plath biographies elicits a somewhat muddled and unsolicited defense of the much-maligned Ted Hughes, while his take on a Robert Graves bio reminds him that the poet has ``always been thought of as a bit unsound . . . with . . . a touch of the bogus.'' He has high praise for Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint but little use for the ``weary fictioneering'' of Norman Mailer's ``Nile-long course of Ancient Evenings.'' Aldous Huxley's letters, he notes, show ``what his novels led us to expect: the apotheosis of arid intellectualism.'' A few of the essays will leave American readers cold and bewildered: the doings at the 1982 World Cup; a tough week for the cricketers at Lord's; an incomprehensible look at three books on the financial foibles of the Spurs football team. Hamilton's half-page foreword insufficiently introduces these writings: One wants background, grounding, some element to link such disparate topics into a unified body of work.