Only a very mediocre writer, said Somerset Maugham, is always at his best, and so it is hardly surprising that the quality of a collection of fifty-four short essays by a practicing doctor of literary ability and interests should vary considerably. After all, even Montaigne nodded.

I found myself alternately in strong agreement with Dr. John Launer and profoundly irritated by him. No doubt it is good that an essayist should evoke such differing reactions in a reader, for it keeps him, the reader, on his toes. There is a tendency for people (and I suspect an increasing one) to read only what they know in advance they will agree with, for then it will comfortingly confirm that they were right all along. Yet everyone will admit, in the abstract, that one ought as well to read points of view other than one’s own. It is therefore good to have two desiderata, the need for both...


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