In a group of atmospheric essays written over a 40-year span, the eminent historian (The End of the Twentieth Century, 1992, etc.) reflects eloquently on his ``brushes with history'' in Europe and America. Lukacs, a native Hungarian who settled in Philadelphia in 1946, here travels across continents and decades. In pieces dating from 1954 through 1993 (some of which originally ran in the New Yorker, the New Republic, and other magazines) the author tours and reflects on Venice, Philadelphia, London, Warsaw, Budapest, and other cities. In an essay from 1965, he attends Winston Churchill's funeral and affectionately considers Churchill's life and the British Empire, both finished; in ``Cook's Continental Timetable'' (1978) he makes reading a railroad schedule seem like a romantic adventure. Lukacs often evokes the unmodern beauties of Eastern Europe, comparing them with the very different qualities of the West. In ``Easter in Warsaw'' (1981) a trip to Poland unfolds as a spiritual pilgrimage to another world, while in ``A Night at the Dresden Opera'' (1986) Lukacs contrasts the rococo aesthetics of the opera house, emblematic of the glories of a bygone Germany, with the drabness of the GDR. In ``Philadelphia'' (1958) Lukacs meditates on how the different personalities of William Penn and Benjamin Franklin shaped his adopted city and nation: ``One was the contemplative humanitarian; the other, the utilitarian eager- beaver.'' In ``Back and Forth from Home'' (1990) this chronicler of the past tells of his worries about the future: Both as an ÇmigrÇ hopeful for newly liberated Hungary and as a member of the Schuykill Township Planning Commission responsible for protecting the local environment, he calls for ``the preservation of a countryside, of a landscape, of a way of life, of a country.'' Potent, absorbing reflections on past and present.