In September 1976, Lt. Viktor Belenko, a pilot in the Soviet Air Defense Command, flew his highly classified MiG 25 to Japan and asked for asylum. His defection was a great coup for the U.S., which had long wanted to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the closely guarded jet; and Belenko was brought to America and rewarded with a comfortable income for life. Belenko's story also had the makings of a propaganda coup--""member of Soviet military elite flies to freedom""--but it doesn't come off in this account based on interviews with the pilot by Barron, a Reader's Digest editor and author of K.G.B. The eagerness to score points for the U.S. and against the Soviet Union is so blatant that all conviction is forfeited. While still in the USSR, Belenko--whose subversive thoughts are scattered throughout the book in italics--wonders about the West: If they are so weak, why are they such a threat? What is the truth? To this, the reader is tempted to retort: If the Soviet Union is so grotesquely inept, why is it such a threat? What is the truth? Making a political primer out of Belenko's story also prevents the MiG pilot from coming across as a human being; he is naive and sophisticated in turn--and the shifts seem designed to accommodate the message. Some of the pieces of the puzzle appear to be missing, moreover. The pilot's father took him away from his mother when he was two and never let her see him again--why, the book doesn't tell. Nor is it really clear why Belenko was estranged from his wife when he defected. The ""Final Escape"" in the title refers to the moment when Belenko, homesick, almost returns to his native land, wanting ""to feel the mud of the streets, smell the stink in which he had grown up, be among the desolate, cold huts. . . ."" Unsurprisingly, he doesn't. Others have provided far more convincing witness.