A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10 1/2 CHAPTERS
by Julian Barnes
Knopf; 307 pages; $18.95
The tone of the title -- both grandiose and self-mocking -- accurately reflects the contents. Julian Barnes, whose third novel, Flaubert's Parrot (1985), earned an army of readers outside his native Britain, has here gathered a collection of prose pieces, nominally fiction, that cohere chiefly by virtue of being bound together in one book. The affair kicks off with a termite's view of the adventures of Noah and his ark. (Noah, it turns out, was not a particularly nice fellow, and his epic voyage was...