For 30 years the German Democratic Republic was an international pariah. But topping the diplomatic success of Helsinki, the 1976 Olympics brought the GDR into the spotlight as the East Germans captured 40 gold medals--more than even the US. Nonetheless, conditions of life in the GDR remain dimly lit, shrouded in prejudice and ignorance. Jonathan Steele, Washington correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and formerly a reporter in Berlin, has drawn together a great deal of information on internal developments, and the record is statistically impressive; beginning with a decimated industrial base--in contrast to its western neighbor--the GDR is now the eighth-ranking industrial power in the world, with a higher per capita income than Britain, a lower infant mortality rate than the Federal Republic, and an all-embracing, comprehensive welfare system. In addition, East Germany has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world and free birth control--undermining one common image of the country--despite a stagnating population level. On the political level, the record is not so clear. The Communists, through the Socialist Unity Party (SED), have ruled the country for its lifetime, with occasional bows to a formal but impotent pluralism. Steele maintains that the leaders of the party, beginning with Walter Ulbricht, have displayed a flexibility and pragmatism which have enabled them to steer an independent course for the GDR, maneuvering around the edges of Soviet control, and to establish a uniquely German ""authoritarian welfare state."" But the periodic strikes and rioting, which Steele chronicles, testify to the fact that the impetus for change and innovation does not emanate from the leadership, but rather from outside the fold. Steele's claims on behalf of the GDR's leaders, though tempered, are overly generous, possibly due to his focus on statistics and state institutions. Still, he does get the basic information across and there is no comparable book on the GDR, making this the one to turn to for a look at ""socialism with a German face.