I've never particularly cared for John Simon's prose. To me, he writes with a poker up his butt. It's a style easily sent up by someone with a thesaurus and a knowledge of English grammar. However, I still enjoyed the book. Its main flaw is also its chief virtue. John Simon is a music-lover, rather than a musician. He has no musical technical expertise (he doesn't even read music) and furthermore doesn't seem to want it. We get a lot of what Mr. Simon does know -- mostly about literature, language, and drama. Thus, a good deal of the book is about vocal music, particularly about opera. You may find yourself wondering why you need to hear him recite the plot of Pelleas et Melisande or of Jenufa, since neither tells you why either of those operas have stuck around. The music gives them their power. I can't think of one opera loved for its plot, unless its Bluebeard's Castle (whose libretto Simon discusses brilliantly, I admit). Nevertheless, Simon is a culture hound of wide range, and the rare insight he gives about music usually relates to other works and other arts -- the kind of insight beyond the experience of most musicians. His discussions of Janacek operatic music are particularly acute and tell you something valuable about its dramatic strengths. Fairly endearing are his enthusiasms for minor composers, something usually missing from his discussions on theater and film, where he usually criticizes from much too safe a position (Bergman a great director? *There's* news). I tend to trust more a critic who occasionally goes off the deep end for some bauble than one who wants to commune only with the Certifiably Great. That's where the "music-lover" comes in and why this trait is so valuable. It means that art actually moves Simon rather than serves as a vehicle of self-congratulation. If Simon would take the trouble to learn a little about the technical side of music, he could easily become one of the best music critics of all. It's not necessarily that he would include such things baldly in an essay, but developing the habit of such thinking might give him a different, valuable point of view.