This memoir--by the general brought in to enable Yeltsin to win the last election--is thoughtful and clear-eyed on military matters, but on politics it sounds like the officers' mess after midnight. The bulk of the book is devoted to Lebed's military career, and this makes much of it surprisingly good, particularly where he deals with Afghanistan. It is also characterized by a sardonic wit. He notes that he never heard the textbook order to ``charge'': ``In real battle, people are commanded chiefly through profanity.'' Referring to the muddy conditions, he writes that a ``bigger clod was a vehicle; a smaller clod was a man.'' Lebed is just to his enemies: The Afghans ``were warriors of the first order''; and when Colin Powell visited his division and Lebed was ordered by the minister of defense, over his protests, to conduct a parachute demonstration in dangerous conditions (as a result of which one paratrooper was killed and many injured), Lebed found ``unbearably shameful'' Powell's repeated question, ``What are you doing?'' He is disappointing on recent history, in part because of his outspoken contempt for politicians and democracy, and in part because he simply fails to deal with the events. He tells us almost nothing of his campaign for the presidency, or his negotiations with Yeltsin, or his successful peace talks with the Chechens. Too much of it is rhetoric rather than thought: ``Brother Slavs . . . in trading totalitarianism for democracy, haven't we just traded one bad thing for another?'' Nor are his suggestions persuasive: While noting that Russia is going through ``an economic, social, political, and moral crisis,'' he weakly suggests putting aside all arguments as to which system suits Russia best--socialism or capitalism--until better times. Lebed reveals himself to be an ``army hard-ass'' who is actually sensitive on army matters and only asinine on political ones.