Exceptionally measured, expertly crafted collection of literary essays, reviews, and criticism from the winner of a 1980 American Book Award for fiction (So Long, See You Tomorrow). Honed by nearly 40 years of editing and writing at The New Yorker, Maxwell's literary gift is for spinning silky sketches of life and people from the bits he has read, or heard, or known of them. Indeed, the two most striking essays here are about people he clearly feels most for--Katharine and E.B. White and the novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner, whose letters he edited. These are sheer gems of portraiture, distant, painterly, but straight to the bone of temperament. Most of the other pieces are book reviews worked up into breezy, affecting narratives that retell the original. A review of a book on Lord Byron's financial troubles becomes a mocking catalogue of excesses climaxing with the snide rejoiner that, as far as money goes, Byron "was a pure and simple idiot." Notes of a Revolutionary, by dissident Russian historian Andrei Amalrik, is retold as a political cliffhanger and tragedy. Always, Maxwell is critically focused. Whether tearing apart a shoddy biography of Irish writer Frank O'Connor, or pegging personalities with brilliant conceits (V.S. Pritchett is a "bassoon in a symphony orchestra" and poet Louise Bogan is likened to Madame Bovary), he is graceful and meticulous in the grandest tradition of belles-lettres. Wise, inspired, and of consummate good taste: a collection to remind us of what a great--and greatly overlooked--writing talent Maxwell really is.