A journalist's excellent history of the Nicaraguan civil war. Garvin, who traveled among the contras for six years reporting for the Washington Times, begins before the war, when formative elements of both the contras and the Sandinistas were united against their common enemy, the Somoza family. The counterrevolutionaries, or contras, came into existence when Daniel Ortega's new regime confiscated their lands. Garvin gives us a detailed account of the guerrilla war that followed, from the vexed participation of Tacho Somoza and some overzealous Argentines through the massive involvements of the CIA and State Department, motivated by a fear of Nicaraguan involvement in El Salvador. Garvin treats Oliver North gingerly, though with a faint distaste; he's more interested in following the exploits of two contra principals, Walter CalderÃ³n and Enrique BermuÃºdez, whom he presents so effectively and sympathetically they become like protagonists in a novel. The richness of this history comes, in fact, from Garvin's mixture of anecdotes and good factual reporting. He has a bit of the soldier of fortune in him, and makes no secret of his sympathies with the contras, who, in his view, were not a ragtag army but a dispossessed, patriotic, even religious minority. In the one year, 1987, that the Reagan Administration persuaded Congress to fund them fully, they did enormous damage to the Sandinistas, despite facing formidable Soviet armaments. Garvin's epilogue looks back on the election and what he feels to be Violeta Chamorro's fatal compromise: allowing Daniel Ortega to retain command of the army. Despite the collapse of the Soviet empire, tensions remain and violence could easily erupt again, Garvin says, particularly with the Chamorro government's disregard for contra claims to land. A partisan but restrained account; we are unlikely to see a better one.