The puny news items are out. The story of the secret negotiations for the hostages' release, which occupies three-fourths of the book, mostly dovetails with Pierre Salinger's earlier account. The hostage crisis itself--insistent, intractable--looks not-so-different from the inside as from the outside. Yet this minutely detailed reconstruction of sleepless nights and clutching-at-straws, of Presidential uncertainty and staff freewheeling, is as remarkable a chronicle as any to come out of those much-exposed precincts. By his accounting, it was Jordan, Carter's ""political hack"" and controversial chief of staff, who asked Panama's president Torrijos, a buddy from the Canal negotiations, to take in the Shah when no one else would have him; who told the Shah just that, to prevail upon him to go; who tried and failed to persuade medical-lion Michael DeBakey to urge the Shah to stay in Panama for surgery, lest the delicate negotiations break down; and who then--""my campaign against the Shah's coming [back] to the States""--reconciled Carter to the Shah's going, at Sadat's (risky?) invitation, to Egypt. But first Carter would have to talk to Anwar--who assured him: ""Jimm-ee, don't you worry about Egypt. You worry about the hostages."" (It was also Jordan, as you may have read, who had the Shah's plane stopped in the Azores--a usurpation of authority which, we're blandly told, caused Carter to become ""livid."") Jordan is as guileful as he is guileless. This is self-flagellation--Jordan was ""largely responsible"" for the quagmire ""Rose Garden strategy,"" ""point man"" for the futile negotiations, ""a strong advocate"" of the disastrous rescue mission--but it is also self-exoneration (we tried, see how we tried). Jordan speaks of himself only as innocent of all those outrageous charges and, somehow, a ""political liability."" (His private life appears to consist of visits to his mother in south Georgia.) As for Carter, he's given to exaggeration, like a small-town boy--hence the ""meanness"" rap. And nobody, it would seem, minded losing the election--about which, as it happens, Jordan has relatively little to say beyond disclosing the Kennedy demand for financial aid. But there is so much going on most of the time--such a sense of world politics on a Tinkertoy scale at a musical-comedy tempo--that other lacks just don't matter.