Analytic profiles of six White House hopefuls and the man they're laboring to succeed, plus an introductory essay making character (""the enduring marks left by life that set one apart as an individual"") the unifying theme. Commissioned by Vanity Fair (in which the six candidate-profiles, in somewhat different form, have appeared) to report on the 1988 presidential election campaign, Sheehy (Passages, Pathfinders) fixed on two Republican candidates (Bush, Dole) and four Democrats (Dukakis, Gore, Hart, Jackson). As an investigative journalist, the author ranks among the very best, consistently coming up with hard facts and challenging conclusions that elude rivals who take office seekers at face value. Despite disclaimers, her gloves-off coverage includes an above-average measure of slick psychological speculation. For example, in a virtuoso hatchet job that taxes Ronald Reagan with never having changed at any deep level, she observes: ""tie has simply reinvented himself, constantly improving on the plot line and script of his long, highly successful performance."" More often than not, however, Sheehy's searching probes of a subject's origins and development yield insights as well as intelligence. In light of George Bush's youthful alacrity in accommodating a demanding father, to illustrate, it's at least plausible to view him as an eager-to-please adult. By Sheehy's account, Albert Gore, Jr., heir to a Senate seat, and Michael Dukakis, overachieving scion of a successful immigrant family, fit this mold as well, albeit in substantively different ways. In like vein, the author judges Jesse Jackson (who was born out of wedlock) in the context of ""his hunger for legitimacy,"" while Robert Dole, badly wounded in WW II, is cooly assessed as a man who does ""not consider himself whole."" Gary Hart (nÃ‰ Hartpence) is another story altogether. Sheehy makes the most of it with crisp reportage on his strict upbringing in a fundamentalist faith and breakaway, fate-tempting sexual liaisons. Lively, interpretive fare for a political year that most of the media seems bent on taking in deadly earnest.