Of all the memoirs written by American diplomats, the two volumes of Kissinger's are in a class by themselves. Kissinger, as was said of Alexander Hamilton, was a "host within himself," a virtuoso in diplomacy the likes of which are seldom encountered in this American world. Centered on a narrative of Kissinger's work as national security adviser and secretary of state, these monumental volumes (which end with Nixon's resignation in 1974) show Kissinger as a gifted portraitist, an infinitely subtle negotiator, a formidable thinker, and a wit. It is derigueur to criticize Kissinger -- his methods, it is said, were devious, his character at once megalomaniacal and insecure, his realpolitik ill suited to the nation's ideals. Inevitably, perhaps, he is beheld with the same ambivalence -- a compound of "aloofness and respect, of distrust and admiration" -- with which he himself regarded Richard Nixon. Kissinger may be faulted persuasively on the score of excessive interventionism; certain of his policies, like the destabilization of Chile and the reckless armament of Iran, were ill-advised. There is, withal, much to admire in these memoirs and in the diplomacy they recount. In his and Nixon's approach to the relations among the great powers -- the Soviet Union, China, Western Europe, and Japan -- the foundations of a new structure of peace were thoughtfully laid. Kissinger brought a philosophical deepening and a restored sense of purpose to American policy at a time of immense anguish. That was no mean accomplishment, however customary it may now be to belittle it.