With accustomed adroitness Tuchman meshes details political and personal, major and minor, into a strong narrative of General Stilwell's career and thirty-five years of U.S. China policy. The result leans toward biographical rather than political history. Stilwell was an egalitarian, commonsensical, high-humored officer; his idiosyncrasies, hatred of pretense and incumbent loneliness are captured in particular through acute selections from his literate, rather ribald diaries. As staff officer to the American occupation force in Shanghai, head of road-building teams of famine-stricken laborers, but especially as roving intelligence officer from 1934 to 1940, Vinegar Joe is at his exuberant best. But Stilwell's orientation toward tactical military situations, rather than the international political climate in which American policy was formed and conducted, creates a hitch in Tuchman's effort to use him to illuminate these policies. After providing considerable pre-World War II background, she is not at her descriptive best during the 1942-1945 high points of Stilwell's career, as he tries to make the Chinese army capable of stopping the Japanese. Press hero of the China-Burma theater, Stilwell is afforded only meager logistical support from U.S. air and ground forces, denied enough political support to arm-twist Chiang, burdened with consistent British shirking, and then ignominiously canned. Never disposed to tune in the political emanations from Washington and other headquarters, he doesn't try to analyze his defeat, and Tuchman falls down here too. As epilogue she asks wanly "What would have happened in postwar China if Stilwell had succeeded in reorganizing Chiang's armies?" Yet the surpassingly readable style and sensibility mobilized in her earlier works sustain the misfit heroics and suffice for high demand.