Prophets are among us, declares Marcus (Like a Rolling Stone, 2005, etc.): singing and making films, writing novels and poetry. But we rarely listen to them until it's too late.

Prophets are among us, declares Marcus (Like a Rolling Stone, 2005, etc.): singing and making films, writing novels and poetry. But we rarely listen to them until it's too late.

The noted cultural critic writes like a human particle accelerator, firing words and ideas at one another at high speed just to see what happens when they collide.

It is the norm when reading Marcus to find Philip Roth, some weird rock band from Cleveland, Martin Luther King Jr., Raymond Chandler and Allen Ginsberg jostling each other in the same paragraph, if not sentence. Sometimes the juxtapositions are productive and provocative, sometimes not.

Here, the author builds his rhetorical edifice on a framework of three significant speeches: John Winthrop's "A Modell of Christian Charity" (1630), which contains the famous image of America as a city on a hill; Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address (1865), with its invocation of "charity for all"; and King's "I Have a Dream" (1963), which challenged the nation to "let freedom ring."

Prophets do not so much foretell the future as highlight the discrepancies between political promises and the betrayals of them, Marcus avers. "America," he writes, "raised itself on the rock of a metaphysically perfect idea, and on that rock it broke into pieces: the nation, not the idea." This idea works its way like a bright thread through the entire textual fabric.

With dazzling, though occasionally stupefying detail, he takes us through the later novels of Philip Roth and the oeuvre of David Lynch (compared to Natty Bumppo and Davy Crockett), pausing along the way for comments on or allusions to Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Ross Macdonald, Ronald Reagan, a 1960s Cleveland TV personality named Ghoulardi, John Grisham and on and on.

Enormous fun for Twin Peaks freaks, Rothophiles, Ginsberg groupies and all who like to sit among the pins in a busy bowling alley.