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This good news/bad news book--80 essays and columns on ""geopolitics"" (a favorite word here), most originally from Harper's, by its editor and chief curmudgeon (Fortune's Child, Money and Class in America)--deplores practically everything, but with a brio obviously intended as a counterweight to its depressing diagnoses of world affairs. Why were these pieces ever collected in a book? Not because of the quality of Lapham's imagination, since except for a few inspired fantasies (what would happen if the US conquered Russia, or if speculators bought up the federal government and sold off its assets), what Lapham does best, and without much modulation, is rail. Not because of his penetration or wisdom, since he works best on the level of the telling phrase (Poindexter, McFarlane, and North are ""road-show Machiavels,"" and their President ""a front man for the America seen in Miller beer commercials"") or brief denunciatory essay; at greater length, he offers no development, no greater insight, nothing positive to recommend but ""the party of experience""; and his ripostes, often trenchant or funny (especially when he's working with juicy material like Jimmy Carter's self-serving memoirs, SDI, or the ""imperial masquerade"" of the Reagan Presidency), get tiresomely repetitive in bulk. And certainly not for their enduring value, since Lapham's quotations of Montaigne and Wallace Stevens merely make him a tenter Art Buchwald. His purpose here is presumably to rile his audience in a way they want to be riled--giving them the rush you get when you read put-downs of terrible movies. Lapham aptly observes that too much modern writing, providing ""escape from anything so subversive as a new idea,"" allows its readers to respond, ""Yes, this is what I have always known."" Is he too naive to notice that he's talking about himself too?

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld