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Some books still matter--even greatly--although generally they're not the ones you'll have heard about. In our grim day, if a book is visible enough for it to be on your radar, the chances are high that it's a product of the enemy--of the culture of fraud and prefab lies, of the "official" and "acceptable" culture, the never-quite-the-real-thing culture of the New York Times, just say, and of the entirety of mainstream publishing. Yes, yes, I know: There are exceptions and some good stuff gets known. But to dwell on the exceptions is like taking time to express joy and wonder at the success of the one well-educated flea that manages against all odds to survive on the hide of a rogue elephant--as the latter trammels your vegetable garden, destroys your home, and curves its tusks through the bodies of your children and neighbors.
And so my own measure of what makes a book a good one--or makes an object in any of the arts a good one--is short and simple: It's the truth-measure. The definition of this measure, that is, is short and simple. Explaining why or how something fits it may be another matter altogether, as complicated as the piece under consideration.
In the case of Lawrence Velvel, however, clarity and simplicity (that's a good word, by the way) are the rule from opening words to final paragraph, and with good reason: The author's subject through all four volumes of this memoir is the simple and consistent truth that honesty in America is a big disadvantage, in fact a crippling disadvantage, to a person's profession, career, success, stature, income, and life achievement. At least this is so if the person's profession happens to be the law. And if that person's career had its beginning somewhere around mid-century, right after World War II had been won by the forces of freedom, a time when, as Velvel puts it in his preface to Volume One, "the American Dream was in full flower."