James Thurber once remarked that "We live in a time when in the moth-proof closet dwells the moth." It is a good lesson and could easily be the text for Halberstam's dazzling account of how some of the best and brightest men of our time -- John F. Kennedy, Walt Whitman Rostow, the Bundy brothers, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, numerous other political illuminati of the '60's -- were chewed up, some beyond mending, by a little moth named Vietnam who ate so much so voraciously and so sneakily that he grew to be an unmanageable creature of monstrous proportions, capable of toppling presidents, visiting holocaust on an entire area of the world, and sucking dry the moral viscera of the great nation Amurrica. How did the moth do it? How was he able to chomp up and ingest everything in the Washington closet right under the collective perspicacity of the brainiest individuals to serve in government since the New Deal? Weren't these men educated at the swellest schools? Wasn't Rusk a Rhodes Scholar? Didn't Rostow write books which set even the Cambridge elite on its fabulous behind? Didn't such an oracle as Walter Lippmann him-self recommend McGeorge Bundy as Secretary of State? Hadn't they all learned at Groton and other Ivy way stations "what washes and what does not wash"? And, yes, wasn't it also true that even Lyndon B. Johnson, who became the hungry moth's favorite dish, was one of the nouveau best and brightest, notwithstanding Pedernales origins and San Mattes State Teachers College vita? All true, but the bug continued to gnaw the fabric -- relentlessly. "Lyndon Johnson had lost it all, and so had the rest of them; they had, for all their brilliance and hubris and sense of themselves, been unwilling to look to and learn from the past...swept forward by their belief in the importance of anti-Communism (and the dangers of not paying sufficient homage to it)." Halberstam's conclusions are not original -- see Daniel Ellsberg's "Stalemate Machine" fueled by the "lesson of China" in Papers on the War (p. 650) -- but his ability to interrelate the decisions and the policy-making processes with the makers' personalities and intellectual biases results in a tour de force of contemporary political journalism. Portions have appeared in Harper's and Esquire; BOMC alternate.