A collection of selected columns written over the past 20 years by The New York Times' man in Washington. Reston has always been that rarest of political columnists, a solon who manages to stay above the fray. By virtue of this, he has garnered the respect of all factions in the often strident political scene. Considering his longevity on the journalistic scene, it is curious that this is only his second such collection (his Sketches in the Sand appeared in 1967). As such, it gives us a unique opportunity to appraise his work as a whole. What we see is an overlying optimism about our system: "". . .in some mysterious way, the principles of freedom and democracy still manage to work on a continental scale among people whose interests are different from one region to another. This is not true anywhere else in the world."" Probably the truest test of a columnist is his ability to prophesy accurately over the long term. Reston passes the tests when he writes in 1966: ""The American conscience is not quiet these days. It would like to be eased by some political savior. . ."" This, written prior to the national gut-wrenching of Vietnam and Watergate, foresaw the ultimate symbolism of Reagan's America some 15 years early. What one might like to see more of are Reston's digressions on his cherished countryside of northern Virginia. He waxes eloquent on the few occasions when he attempts this ("". . .of all things that must be left to the children in this age, privacy and beauty are the most important. . .""). Unlike most such collections, this reads well and will evoke a few wistful (and thoughtful) looks back upon recent history.