"The Book of Virtures, a Treasury of Great Moral Stories...

EDITOR'S CHOICE

June 04, 1995|By Michael Pakenham

"The Book of Virtures, a Treasury of Great Moral Stories," edited with commentary, by William J. Bennett. 831 pages. New York: Simon & Schuster. $30.

This anthology of cautionary prose and poetry is dropping off the top national best seller lists, where it has endured almost indomitably for some 80 weeks. "Intended to aid in the time-honored task of the moral education of the young," as Mr. Bennett's introduction sets out, it is cram-full of bits and pieces, all seething with worthiness and elucidation of the good life. Mr. Bennett, of course, is far too conservative to please most bookish tribes, and a steep grade too learned to be trusted by hard-line conservatives. When you've scraped off the icing, though, this book is not a political pudding at all, but rather a hugely entertaining and often instructive grab bag of gems and treacle, red meat and pabulum. One belongs in the smallest room of every literate house.

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