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Suppose that 16 years ago you had written not one but two superlative books. Would you suffer from anxiety of influence with regard to early versions of yourself, as if, to twist Harold Bloom, your early self now played an insurmountably glorious Milton to your later romantic phases? Did Shakespeare say to himself: ‘No way I can beat Hamlet, so why write again?’ Jon Elster wrote two gems in the 1970s and 1980s, Ulysses and the Sirens and Sour Grapes. Not that they have deterred him from publishing at a stupendous rate since, though he has never recaptured that earlier refulgence. In Alchemies of the Mind, he explicitly means to revisit Sour Grapes, to add emotions to the more unabashed rational-choice style of the earlier work. What he gains in nuance he loses in freshness and surprise, but not all that much. If Sour Grapes was his Hamlet, Alchemies is his Cymbeline; the book is too long, but it gives much pleasure and instruction.


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