In these gleanings from his voluminous memoirs, Kissinger lets us eavesdrop on his telephone conversations during two of the most dramatic periods during his tenure as secretary of state—the Yom Kippur War in 1973 (80 percent of the book) and the eve of the final U.S. pullout from Vietnam. More than 500 pages of telephone transcripts, including garbles and non sequiturs, linked only by brief commentary, would ordinarily dull even attentive minds. But Crisis proves to be a page-turner although it does not much matter if you turn several pages at a time since it is the tone that matters, not the details.

We are provided with a close-up view of power being wielded from the center of the world by a bespectacled professor who seems to thrive amidst spiraling chaos. With hardly a pause, he ministers with gentle words to a president on the edge of collapse, fences brilliantly with the Soviets over the fate of the erupting Middle East, alternately encourages and browbeats America's Israeli clients as circumstance dictates, sweet-talks his ostensible Egyptian adversaries into going steady, engages in collegial one-upmanship with his Western counterparts, goes head-to-head with the Washington bureaucracy, and before going off to bed, initiates a worldwide nuclear alert. He even finds time to call New York mayor John Lindsay to pass on Soviet complaints about demonstrations outside their Manhattan consulate. All this, without losing his sense of humor ("They haven't had a pogrom since the last Jews left," he says mordantly in rejecting Polish participation in a Middle East observer team). Nor, at least according to these transcripts, losing the inner balance that permits him to keep his eye on the big picture through the fog of battle and to adjust constantly tactics to strategy. Such is his aplomb that we half expect, between planting information on United Nations secretary-general Kurt Waldheim in order to have it disseminated ("He leaks like a sieve"), encouraging the dispatch of the Sixth Fleet towards the battle zone, and sandbagging the Soviets diplomatically, to hear him calling out for pizza—easy on the anchovies. What the book lacks in context, it makes up for in immediacy.