Though not a major new work, this collection of essays, consisting primarily of book reviews and occasional writings of the last 20 years, is characteristic Coles: gracefully written, deeply committed to humanitarian values, distinguished by references to a personal pantheon that includes William Carlos Williams, Carlos Bernanos, Dickens, George Eliot, and Dostoevsky. Readers who first met Ruby Bridges in Children of Crisis (1967) will find some observations here familiar, but most of the other writings seem fresher. Coles writes perceptively about books as varied as The Culture of Narcissism (Lasch), A Confederacy of Dunces (Toole), Socialism (Harrington), Particulars of My Life (Skinner), New Burlington (Baskin), and Scoundrel Time (Hellman). He also writes affectingly about the research of two British psychiatrists into the ""madness"" of George III (porphyria, an inherited disease, is a more accurate diagnosis) and reflects on the unsympathetic attitudes of those who consider constraints suitable--then or now. A psychiatrist quick to distance himself from much of the profession, Coles prefers reading novels (Arrowsmith, Middlemarch) to case histories with his medical students because they offer more finely realized portraits and stronger sources for moral discussion. Along the way, Coles finds much to admire in the lives and works of Reinhold Niebuhr, Thomas Merton, and Ned O'Gorman, and in the often courageous attitudes of several former patients, including Flannery O'Connor. A free-ranging reader and prolific writer, Coles continues to focus on the complexities of human life and ""the ambiguities and ironies that never stop confronting us.