The recent American past is treated with mannerly disdain in this collection of 31 essays and articles by Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's Magazine. In the belief that post-WW II America has been acting like a rich kid come into a lavish inheritance, Lapham goes after such targets as the environmental movement (a rich man's cause), the presumptions of the media, people who believe there is an oil shortage (he says otherwise), the late Nelson Rockefeller, the Ford Foundation, the Christmas Eve bombing of Hanoi, the Kennedy Administration, Andrew Young's presumably romantic view of Africa, the ex-Shah of Iran, the Aspen Institute and a great variety of others--the Left can choose from Column A, the right from Column B. That he has come up with such a mixed bag is partly due to the sweeping nature of his ""rich kid"" metaphor, which tends to lump together the struggle of the have nots for a place in the sun with the ""I want it all now"" of a spoiled heir. These jeremiads apart, the collection contains a few first-rate journalistic pieces on the Mossler murder trial, the Beatles' guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at home in his ashram, and the making and unmaking of the Broadway musical ""Kelly,"" which closed the night it opened. They offer an objective correlation for his ready scorn which is mostly lacking elsewhere.