The Last Innocent White Man In America, And Other Writings

"The Last Innocent White Man in America, and Other Writings" by John Leonard The New Press, $21.95 -------------------------------

"For a living," writes all-round critic John Leonard, "I chase the ambulances of the culture." As you might guess, Leonard is a busy man. In these 60-plus essays and reviews from various periodicals, he reflects on the Gulf War, the fires of L.A., Chicago '68, the campaign trail, Jean-Paul Sartre, Kurt Vonnegut (Leonard's "Last Innocent White Man in America"), and any other sirens that call to him.

And lo and behold, he has a mind of his own. For example, Leonard's a liberal but has a problem with JFK: "(I)f the president's idea of himself is that of a swashbuckler, how else does he expect the CIA to behave in Latin America and Southeast Asia?" He takes aim at our favorite target of the 1980s, Nancy Reagan, only to defend her: "It's always seemed to me that we picked on Nancy to avoid thinking about her husband."

He's not too fond of "The Satanic Verses," but he quite conspicuously does battle with the Ayatollah Khomeini over Salman Rushdie: "What we've looked into for the past shameful week is an eleventh-century mind, an assassin's grin." Best of all, Leonard doesn't always say what we want to hear. "If you want congratulations," he argues, "buy a greeting card and mail it to