A thoroughly absorbing though not entirely credible analysis of the Branch Davidian movement and critique of America's stance toward ``cults.'' Both specialists in religion, Tabor (Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) and Gallagher (Connecticut College) convincingly contend that the tragedy at Waco, Tex., that resulted in the deaths of 4 federal agents and 80 Branch Davidians could easily have been averted. David Koresh and his followers had been open to communicating with ``biblically oriented'' peopleincluding Tabor, who was kept a marginal player by the government in the tragically inadequate final negotiations. Koresh, argue Tabor and Gallagher, would only emerge from his Mt. Carmel siege after receiving ``word from God.'' The government authorities, however, did not understand that any `` `surrender' could only be worked out through dialogue within the biblical framework in which the Branch Davidians lived.'' In presenting their account of the events, Tabor and Gallagher tend to grant the Branch Davidians and their leader a theological and psychological legitimacy that will be challenged by many readers. It is difficult to accept, for example, that Koresh was acting from sincere religious conviction (in the need to spread his messianic seed) when he took all the group's married women and adolescent girls as his sexual partners, while demanding celibacy from the rest of the compound's males. Tabor and Gallagher believe that the stance of anticultists is based on misunderstandings and distortions of ``charismatic leadership . . . the process of conversion, and . . . similarities between the Peoples Temple and other new religious movements.'' The authors view the government's maltreatment of the Davidians as symptomatic of society's intolerance toward unconventional religious groups and an abridgement of religious freedom. But Koresh seems to have posed more of a threat to individual freedom than the authors are willing to concede. Provocative and challenging, the questions raised here deserve to be answered as the ashes from Waco and Oklahoma City still settle.