Cotkin explores what Susan Sontag and Tom Wolfe, among others, dubbed 'the New Sensibility,' a term he admits contains so many possible definitions that 'trying to reach one is a game that has its delights but never ends with victory.' He’s right about its delights — the book fascinates on every page — and also about the inevitable failure of assigning any single meaning to the label. It doesn't matter.
[I]n essence, Cotkin’s presentation of the New Sensibility is a reductionist version of Sontag’s explorations. And whether he is writing about a minimalist score by John Cage, or Pynchon’s literary behemoth Gravity’s Rainbow, he hammers his theme home.
Much of Mr. Cotkin’s book is a re-narration of the more dramatic—the more excessive—events in the lives and works of these figures...It is not clear, though, whether Mr. Cotkin has managed to come up with a significantly new interpretation of what he calls, following Susan Sontag, 'the New Sensibility.'