Rinse, Please

As the book's title has all the lyric delicacy of a Rolex advertising campaign, and as we quickly discover that its author is neither a philosopher nor a watchmaker, it becomes clear at the outset that what we are up against is the most irritating of genres, popular science. In Mr. Waugh's defense, I hasten to add that, for us laymen, one of the most infuriating aspects of the did-you-know approach he plies here is that too often our answer is a grudging "No." The result is that the untutored reader, who has every right to consider himself the untutored writer's equal, finds himself learning things against his own better judgment. This is almost as humiliating as listening to your dentist talk about Baudelaire.

On the whole, it may be well worth the unpleasantness, however embarrassing it is, to hear Mr. Waugh (grandson of Evelyn, son of Auberon) pal around with his crimson-faced audience throughout what is undeniably an ill-composed, messy, and repetitive compendium of facts, conjectures, and ideas. Perhaps that is because this reviewer, in particular, has a weakness for Mr. Waugh's subject, and, seeing it twisted this way and that, as it is here, without any apparent purpose and in the absence of a cogent thesis, is easily and mightily pleased nonetheless. Perhaps if you really love Baudelaire you won't mind hearing about him between rinses.

The lesson of Mr. Waugh's untidy little book,...

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