The twelve essays in The Half-Life-the title is from Goethe's Experience is only half of experience-go deeper than the standard book piece; they hew to the line first drawn by Montaigne and later extended by Dr. Johnson, Hazlitt, Woolf and Orwell. Although there may be no preordained way of writing about literature, Krystal takes his cue from Edwin Denby, who maintained that the first duty of the critic is to be interesting. No matter how large the subject-whether it is the history of boxing or the growth of the Holocaust industry, Krystal paints broad subjects with precise brushstrokes. Erudite and informative, his essays are still accessible to the general reader. The reason is simple: as Dr. Johnson noted, What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. To this one might add that there is satisfaction to be had in the effort itself. How else could one write as committedly and entertainingly about Paul Valery's Cahiers as about Joe Louis's left jab?