Religious questionings, literary criticism, and a lifelong penchant for social comment and self-analysis characterize these musings, which vividly evoke the US on the verge of war and Merton on the verge of monastic life. More than 25 years have passed since the author's sudden death at age 53 in 1968, and his private journals, which formed the basis of several of his books, can now be published. This initial volume, edited by a monastic colleague and collaborator, introduces us to Merton as a young intellectual and convert to Catholicism during the years 1939-41. It records his life in New York City's Greenwich Village, his stint teaching English at Columbia University Extension, his attempts to get published, his short visit to Cuba, and 18 months on the faculty of St. Bonaventure's University in New York state. Merton comes across as a fertile if not always original mind as he discusses such contemporary figures as James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Dylan Thomas, and T.S. Eliot, meanwhile striving to understand life and the European war through the exciting new vision opened up to him by Catholic belief and Scholastic thought. He takes a writer's delight in playing with words, and at times his own prose is Joycean in its allusiveness as he attempts to capture the moment. We read of how Melton thought of joining the Franciscans, then of working with the poor at Friendship House in Harlem, before deciding to become a Trappist monk. Much of his writing here resembles The Seven Storey Mountain, and it contains occasional purple passages of pious fervor and rejection of the world that he would repudiate in the '60s. As in his later works, Merton sometimes appears a bystander to life, trapped in literary self-consciousness. No startling revelations, but a must for Merton scholars and devotees.