O'Brien (The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism; Neighbors; Herod; Reflections on Political Violence; etc.) approaches his touchy political subjects with insight, common sense, and vast learning, making his essays rewarding reading even for the opposition. O'Brien takes a stance of fiercely independent liberalism, not allowing intellectual fashion or the party line to influence his conclusions. He has, for example, become embroiled in something of a controversy by breaking the academic boycott to lecture in South Africa. In a number of pieces, O'Brien discusses his reasons for doing so, and goes on to examine the possibilities for South Africa's future. Anyone sympathetic to the I.R.A. will be infuriated (as that faction often is with him) as O'Brien examines Ireland's situation from a historical perspective, and concludes the I.R.A. to be the major factor preventing a peaceful settlement. (And there's a 20-year-old essay on the politics of W.B. Yeats that's still controversial.) The centerpiece of this collection, the award-winning ""God and Man in Nicaragua,"" should be required reading for anyone concerned with Central American politics. Here, O'Brien examines the nature of the Sandinista revolution, its politics and its religion, offering a unique and insightful perspective our policy-makers would do well to heed. A witty, informative, and thought-provoking collection.