Largely familiar tale of great-power politics prior to and during WW II; by Gardner (History/Rutgers; Approaching Vietnam, 1988, etc.). Gardner argues that the roots of the territorial agreements that culminated at Yalta can be discerned in the efforts of the great powers to avoid WW II and to find ``spheres of influence.'' His basis for including the US in this thesis is a 1938 initiative by FDR to set up an international conference to ``lend support and impetus'' to Anglo-French attempts to reach ``a practical understanding with Germany both on colonies and upon security, as well as upon European adjustments.'' Since then-British PM Neville Chamberlain was unenthusiastic, Roosevelt dropped the idea. Gardner doggedly pursues the ``spheres of influence'' theme throughout the period, but although there are some conspicuous exceptions (such as Yalta), the historical references to the finding of these spheres seem--with the Eastern European nations facing the overwhelming might of Soviet armies--to have been animated by faint hope rather than clear calculation. Both Churchill and FDR veered between egotistical assurance and brutal realism, says Gardner, while Roosevelt discerned quite early that Stalin had only two choices: ``One, isolation after lopping off certain territory along Russia's boundaries, accompanied by the maintenance of heavy armaments; two, become part of the world and meet all Russia's responsibilities under a sane, practical policy of international cooperation.'' Gardner--against what seems to be much evidence to the contrary- -believes that Stalin might have accepted such a sane policy. He concludes that ``it is difficult to imagine how the US could have managed the economic recovery of Europe without the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.'' In truth, however, it's more likely that it was the Soviet threat rather than its sphere of influence that spurred America's European reconstruction policy. Some useful information clearly presented, but, overall--to adapt the famous Churchill phrase--a pudding in search of a theme.