In these 15 earnest and ambitious essays (published in earlier form in Harper's, The Kenyon Review, etc.), Sanders (The Paradise of Bombs, 1987) looks for--and often finds--universal truths in the particulars of everyday life. A professor of literature at Indiana Univ., Sanders has done his homework. Thoreau and Wendell Berry inform an affecting essay on the importance of the local, of living in a neighborhood, while in the course of a self-searching inquiry into the proper--i.e., honest, moral--way to look at attractive women, Sanders quotes Simone de Beauvoir, Joan Didion, William Carlos Wiliams, John Berger, Kate Millett, D.H. Lawrence, George Steiner, and James Baldwin. For all these advisors, though, Sanders's own caring, sometimes bemused, always forthright voice effectively carries each piece--whether a slight but charming essay on yard ornaments; or an innovative and insightful look at what may be wrong with American literature today (``What is missing from much recent fiction, I feel, is any sense of nature, any acknowledgment of a non-human context''); or a piece on what he feels is the real reason (not ``machismo'' or to counter ``our fear of death'') why men like to play sports: ``The less use we have for our bodies, the more we need reminding that the body possesses its own way of knowing.'' Well-organized, the book begins and ends with its strongest essays: ``Under the Influence,'' a moving account of Sanders's coming to terms as a child with his father's alcoholism and the lingering effects of that disease on his adult life; and the title piece, a meditation on physics and its revelations about ``the size, intricacy, and elegance of the cosmos.'' Shimmering with a kind of secular sacredness, Sanders's work is a modest but marvelous celebration of the small and large mysteries of life.