This is Sampson's fourth Anatomy of a changing, unchanging Britain in 20 years; and it remains focused, as perhaps only a British study could, on institutions and their leaders (""not the other millions at the receiving end of their decisions""). In the aggregate, the ""malaise"" of post-imperial, late-industrial Britain is seen to have resisted successive waves of reform, which in some instances (the schools, the civil service, local government, science-and-technology) may have made matters worse. Britain's one great strength, in this view, is its political stability. The Social Democrats (with whom Sampson has been affiliated) might, in alliance with the Liberals, offer an alternative to Labour/Conservative polarization. (But Falklands-war fervor was a setback.) Otherwise, Britain still excels at pre-industrial activities (""banking, insurance, the theatre or gardening""); and some economic concentration has been reversed (see the campaign to save local pubs and brews) or at least halted (see Savoy hotels' rebuff to Trust House Forte). Apart from tales of disillusion (with Sampson reporting the smug assurances of successive ministers), the book offers: deft portraits of politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen (Margaret Thatcher, of course, is queenlier than the queen; Shirley Williams gains by contrast to her); profiles of political parties (""Were the new left-wing groups more or less dangerous than the pro-Moscow communists thirty years earlier?""); and brief, authoritative updates on British newspapers and television, as well as the warp-and-weft institutions. This time, ""Monarchy"" leads off the first section, ""Politics."" ""It. . . has become more expert than any other institution in one critical art--the art of survival."" Gloom tinctured with amusement--and, as always, clearly organized and expertly indexed.