The celebrated English novelist gathers his essays of four decades in one volume. Best known for his novels, which include classic works such as The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Fowles now offers a collection of essays and “occasional pieces” written between 1963 and 1997. The book comprises 30 disparate pieces, divided into four categories: “Autobiographical,” “Culture and Society,” “Literature and Literary Criticism,” and “Nature and the Nature of Nature.” Fowles enthusiasts will be grateful for the book. The master’s ruminations will deepen their understanding of his fictional world, perhaps especially the section on nature. However, those not already in thrall to Fowles’s imagination are not likely to be persuaded or even attracted by this omnium-gatherum of odds and ends. Curiously, Fowles seems uneasy as an essayist. It is, for example, a leitmotif of this volume for him to declare that he does not care what “the academics” think. He claims this so often that it becomes clear that “the academics”—whoever they may be—bother him a great deal and that he in fact does care what they think. This unnecessary combat with phantoms makes him appear defensive and unsure of himself. Consequently it undermines his reader’s confidence in the surefootedness of his critical stance. He is at his best when completely unapologetic, as in comments of this sort: “Above all I loathe the drift (a kind of fascism of the majority) that would so homogenize, suburbanize, and ‘democratize’ life as to make it lose all it varieties and roughnesses—make it, like margarine, ‘easy to spread.— “ Take that to Starbucks and sip it. In the end, though shot through with veins of gold, this collection also contains its share of slag and dross.