The plain fact of the matter is that there's not much excitement in reading old newspaper columns, even those by a veteran writer like Sydney J. Harris of the Chicago Daily News, who has been at it since 1944. At best The Best of Sydney J. Harris is a checkered collection on everything from workmanship, women M.D.s, and parenthood to Vietnam, violence, the study of Latin or the state of the Arts. He treats the big issues, in other words, and he treats them with some decisiveness: ""Our whole apparatus of society is an expression of our fear, hostility and ignorance."" Oh well. But even at his rightest, he is still a people's philosopher writing in the tradition of Poor Richard--which in itself is limiting and ineluctably tends toward the banal. Important insights for many are going to sound like a set of rather uninteresting cliches for others. To his credit this is populist wisdom which happens to be on the liberal rather than conservative side, and his attempts to convert the masses are commendable. He's the voice of love and reason, champion of individual rights, independent critic of the status quo and since this is the sixth omnium gatherum of his well-meant opinions in book form, one must assume a readymade readership.