Near the close of his anecdotal and episodic recap of a six-year tour as chief spokesman for the Reagan White House, Speakes observes: ""The uproar over diverting money to the Contras proved once and for all what I have always believed: that Central America is not an issue you can sell to the American people."" That offhand comment epitomizes the author's pragmatic approach to life, politics, the presidency, and his own career. A hired gun (rather than an ideologue), Speakes has been blessed with an exquisite sense of timing and uncommonly good fortune. And he has made the most of his opportunities. After a youthful stint as a small-town newspaperman in Mississippi, he became Senator James Eastland's press secretary. Subsequently, he has served Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Robert Dole (during his abortive run for the vice-presidency), and, finally, Ronald Reagan. Fortuitously but typically, the author was out of the White House and into a top job at Merrill Lynch before the Iran/contra scandal reached its crescendo. But Speakes did not, of course, lack for either excitement or drama during his years with Reagan. On his watch, he fronted for the Administration in the thick of such crises as the Soviet destruction of KAL-107, the Grenada invasion, Reagan's bout with colon cancer, the Achille Lauro hijacking, the Challenger explosion, the Reykjavik Summit, the air raids on Libya, the Daniloff affair, and the Marcos ouster. The author offers mouthpiece-level appraisals of these and other emergencies. He also settles some scores with media notables (NBC's Chris Wallace, Lesley Stahl of CBS, the AP's Helen Thomas, et al.), and White House colleagues. Speakes has few kind words for members of the Baker-Meese-Deaver troika that kept him out of the inner loop during his first few years on the job. Nor does he have much use for self-destructors like Buchanan, MacFarlane, North, Poindexter, or Stockman. In brief, then, sharp, short-take observations from a man whose stock in trade was thinking, not philosophizing, on his feet. The text includes eight pages of photographs (not seen).