A beautiful title and a beautiful book. It seems quite likely its breadth of learning, the ease and elegance of its style, and the vivid picture it presents of Heian Japan's court life- culturally, politically, sexually- should make it one of those studies both scholars and the general sophisticate keep returning to year after year. Moreover, the discussion of The Tale of Genji, the great medieval roman-fleuve, (which has been likened to Proust); taken purely as literary criticism is in itself an assessment of no mean proportions. The novel's hero, Prince Genji, becomes also the mirror of what Ivan Morris discerns to be the era's guiding patrician principle, that of aesthetic values tempering and transcending the psychological and social ones. At a time when the West was sunk in the Dark Ages, Japanese aristocrats enjoyed a life-style remarkable for its tolerance, variety and well-bred contradictions: a polygamous world, it was at once permissive and courtly; Buddhist-oriented, yet the sensibility was towards the sumptuous, never the other-worldly; a governing class full of hierarchical rigidities and a boring bureaucracy, but the ""in"" thing was to hunt or compose poetry, (the military, for instance, was infra dig); intellectually advanced yet still surrounded with superstitions, etc. It high points were a voracious pursuit of the cult of beauty, probably as refined as that of the Greeks, and its emancipated women- at least those of the upper-class. A shining book, colorfully but carefully elaborated, painless, probing professionalism all around.