An energetic, well-researched account of America's role in Nicaragua's history. Though the current contra-Sandinista conflict is handled cautiously (""[these events] are too close to us in time to be the subject of reasoned historical analysis"") and the Irancontra hearings mentioned not at all, Nicaragua's story is told with a compassionate irony and a sense that primary documents have been absorbed. The author attempts to explain the source of Nicaragua's continuous difficulties by explaining ""Personalisimo,"" which involves ""emphasis on the pride and dignity of the individual. . .more important than. . .allegiance to a national society,"" and ""Machismo,"" which includes ""an inability to accept a public defeat however slight."" The role of various international pirates, as well as the ""reign"" of Cornelius Vanderbilt,"" an eager supporter of a Nicaraguan rather than a Panamanian canal, is discussed. The chapter on William Walker, the charismatic Philadelphian who believed in a ""racist version of a slavocracy in Nicaragua,"" is outstanding. General Sandino (the original Sandinista), all the Somozas, and Daniel Ortega are also here. Sophisticated, well written, and informative, with many anecdotes (both sad and amusing) to help readers through the Nicaraguan maze. Black-and-white photos; index; annotated bibliography.