Writing with the fervor that other American reporters have brought to the Congo or Vietnam, Washington Post correspondent Randal will convince the drained but much-enlightened reader that Lebanon is indeed ""a cursed and bloodsoaked land""--for which American indifference must share the blame with Lebanese Christian aggression (against, in effect, the Muslim majority) and Israeli callousness. Lebanon is also, of course, a morass and a tangle. Randal, on the spot since the 1975-76 civil war, leads off with last year's double blow: the assassination of Christian Maronite president-elect Bashir Gemayel, and the succeeding Israeli-backed Maronite massacre of Palestinians in the Shatila camp (the facts are indisputable). Then, in long chapters of complex, mutually supportive narrative, he traces dominant strands of the tragic tangle: Christian Maronite pretensions (and anti-Arabism); the 1975-76 collapse of the shaky Christian-Muslim state; the rise of the proto-Fascist Phalange and the fanatical Gemayel; American neglect and (via Israel) de facto complicity; Israeli connivance (with Syria) at destabilization; Sharon's thrust to Beirut. Along the way, Randal pays tribute to Beirut as ""the last of the great Levantine cities"" and to the ""sheer exuberance"" of the Lebanese; ""suddenly,"" he writes with great effect, ""this land, supposedly wallowing in the docile pleasures of the consumer society, was giving anarchy a bad name."" Similarly, he disabuses Americans of illusions about a ""democratic,"" enlightened pro-Western Lebanon. He also demonstrates the inevitability of both the assassination and the massacre--and why the immediate perpetrators (whose identities are well-known) will never be brought to account. This is, distressingly, another in the annals of political underdevelopment (exacerbated by self-interested outsiders) whose ""complexity and perversity"" Randal has strikingly captured.