An engaging account -- part memoir, part history -- of the last half of the Cold War. Gates is a career CIA official and Soviet specialist who served variously as an assistant to Stansfield Turner, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and William J. Casey, ultimately becoming director of central intelligence in the Bush administration. He is a surprisingly good writer; some of his character sketches are amusing and perceptive. Casey, Gates writes, "would go through a book fast -- he called his style 'skip-reading' -- sucking out the essence and moving on" (a method they might get away with at Langley but which is, of course, strictly forbidden at Foreign Affairs). Although Gates adopts a plaintive and defensive tone when discussing the charges of politicization raised during his confirmation hearings in 1991, and ignores the costs the Cold War imposed on the United States, his analysis overall has a disinterested quality unusual for a participant. He stresses the extraordinary continuity of American policy from Nixon to Bush, the secret all presidents, eager to make their own mark, were loath to acknowledge. The most important but least acknowledged continuity of all, he insists, was that between Carter and Reagan, with the former beginning many of the covert actions, strategic programs, and moral campaigns that exploited Soviet vulnerabilities in the last phase of the epic struggle.