Alford, of course, is not the only one operating with a wisdom deficit. In the book’s final chapter, he visits Ashleigh Brilliant, a seventy-five-year-old published epigrammist, with ten thousand to his name. Alford rightly lets the interview stand without comment. What comes through, however, is that this man who spends his time cranking out aphorisms is no wiser than anyone else; he resides not in some enlightened paradise but in a cluttered Santa Barbara house in the company of his irritating wife. And just maybe, since life is short, the artful distillation of entire philosophies is not the best use of his time.

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Gregory Beyer is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.