Like the catastrophes, cancers, and madmen to which he's variously been compared, Muammar al-Qaddafi--leader of sparsely-populated, oil-rich Libya and, by force of personality and petrodollars, a major actor on the world stage--is more easily described than understood. Cooley, longtime Middle East correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor (now with ABC News), doesn't really try; neither does he distinguish between the significant and the trivial. But he does treat Qaddafi seriously, with due attention to the important aspects of his career: how he and his colleagues on the Revolution Command Council manipulated Western oil companies competing to exploit Libya's high-quality oil--in the process enriching their country and contributing substantially to the 1970s transformation of the international oil market; how Qaddafi has made Libya into an arsenal of sophisticated weaponry purchased not only from the USSR (of which Libya is the single largest arms customer), but also from the Western powers and even neutral Sweden; how, like his idol Nasser, Oaddafi attempted--with similarly disastrous results--to impose his notions of unity on his Arab neighbors, the Muslim areas of sub-Saharan Africa, and on the Islamic world. At sometimes greater length, Cooley also describes Qaddafi's dealings with former CIA agents Edwin Wilson and Frank E. Terpil (and other shady operatives), and with Billy Carter--shedding little new light on any of these matters, however, despite some not-for-attribution interviews with Qaddafi opponents-in-exile. Nor does he offer any insight into how Qaddafi's adventurism can be constrained if the oil glut which permitted the Reagan administration to curb him in 1981 comes to an end. (Libyan internal politics is still less adequately treated.) But even as an unselective assemblage of information on the Qaddafi phenomenon, the book has no present competition.