From an East German-born American journalist who has filled YAs in on The Two Germanies (1974) and The Soviet Union Today (1976), a lively and incisive report on East European life at present, buttressed by insightful glimpses of the relevant past. Dorman is clearly on speaking terms with his subject, which makes all the difference--whether he is drawing from his ample store of East European political jokes to illustrate a point or steering us through the labyrinthian history of shifting boundaries, ethnic origins, and East-West alignments. Recognizing that ""to most people in Western countries, the power that the Communist parties have over the governments is hard to understand,"" Dorman does an excellent job of clarifying the relationships, characterizing the differences among the countries, and explaining to young Americans just where each country stands (relative to us, to the Soviet, to each other, and to its own past) in terms of personal freedom, standard of living, and national independence. (The new ""home"" Communist leaders are not the Moscow tools who effected the ""takeover"" after World War II.) A Czechoslovakian ""pin crisis"" points up the creaky unresponsiveness of the Russian and Eastern European economic system--which, like Soviet imperialism, ""really has nothing to do with Socialism or Communism."" Dorman's profiles of the five countries' leaders are brisk and blunt: Bulgaria's Zhukov, known as ""His Master's Voice,"" is ""a dictator who rules not with. . . secret police but rather with the plodding machinery of the Party apparatus""; Hungary's Kadar came in as a traitor to the home Revolution and became an immensely popular leader who has effected its aims; Romania's Ceausescu's ""style in dealing with the government-run economy is rather similar to that of Nikita Khrushchev--lots of motion in neutral gear and constant reorganization and disorganization. But in his style of rule he comes closer than any man has yet to Stalin."" No dreary summary for dutiful regurgitation, this is a real book, discernably by a real person, to be read for pleasure and enlightenment.