Harper's editor Lapham (The Wish for Kings, 1993, etc.) proves why his magazine won the 1995 National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism. The 56 essays in this anthology, written for Harper's from January 1990 to March 1995, have in common Lapham's brilliance, acerbic wit, and disdain for all those who ``defend the sanctity of myth against the heresy of fact.'' More fundamentally, these commentaries on America are linked by Lapham's belief that ``democracy allies itself with change and proceeds on the assumption that nobody knows enough and that nothing is final.'' According to this principle, conflict is an important aspect of political life; a necessary and useful corrective to oppression and stagnation. Lapham sees grave threats to the nation from those who believe that freedom of speech and thought are destructive influences, rather than the very basis for growth and improvement in America. He criticizes the political correctness movements of the left and the right, and the aversion among politicians to take on problems because ``solutions imply change, and change is unacceptable because change translates into resentment, and resentment loses votes.'' The Republican right, he contends, stifles debate by its oversimplification of America's problems, which it attempts to blame on the poor and an imagined ``liberal establishment.'' And the American people are criticized for believing politicians who promote the republic as they would a resort hotel, treating the electorate not as responsible citizens but as guests. American voters, Lapham rails, would rather be coddled than act. Lapham believes that ``a raucous assembly of citizens unafraid to speak their minds'' prods Americans to think creatively about the future. This raucous assembly of one proves the point.