Eighteen trenchant essays on American politics and society during the cold war. Until his death in 1989, Karp (Liberty Under Siege, 1988, etc.) was a contributing editor to Harper's, where many of these pieces first appeared. With various aspects of American life--from TV soaps to fallout shelters--as grist for his mill, Karp generally finds evidence of a relentless erosion of republican values in the land of the free. Moving through a century of history, his kickoff essay, ``The Two Americas,'' traces the growth of nationalism from the 1890's, viewing it as an assault on the republic as flag-waving jingoism has replaced ideas of a politically active citizenry. Public education comes under fire in ``Why Johnny Can't Think,'' in which Karp cites studies from the mid-1980's that buttress his contention that republican sentiments are being systematically stamped out by having children learn through rote and discipline rather than through independent thinking. Central Park, Bobby Kennedy, and the Peloponnesian War (here used in an elaborate comparison to cold-war posturing) provide focal points for other commentaries, while the saga of Watergate appears as a recurring theme. Perhaps Karp's most scathing remarks, however, come in a close consideration of the Reagan years. Here, he suggests collusion between the Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House, and follows in detail dangerous precedents separating the executive branch from constitutional checks and balances- -further steps, Karp says, toward oligarchy and the denial to Americans of their rightful place in the political process. Occasionally strident, always implacable and severe, these essays express in many ways the prevailing mood of dissatisfaction in the country today.