This is a text about American government ""as is"" -- not separation of powers but quid pro quo. Patronage is the stickum that holds ""the system"" together and the authors trace in detail the ties that bind from the grass roots to the White House. Patronage is construed in the broadest sense to include all political favors from the sale of an ambassadorship to the political leverage it takes to get a broken water pipe repaired in Cook County to an invitation to a Presidential prayer brunch. Much of the material -- especially about the Congress and the Presidency -- will be a familiar rehash of commonly known fact and last week's scandals. The mesh of patronage surrounding the judiciary is less well known and more open to serious question of ethics and the public interest (""'No one knows how much judgeships go for yet everyone knows they go for a price' -- a professor of law""). To the Victor is not an expose, though it may read that way to people who have taken conventional textbook accounts too literally. The Tolchins appreciate that the power to give or deny favors is essential to the American brand of pluralistic democracy. ""The best that one can ask is that patronage be employed to advance programs that promote the national interest and the rational planning of states and cities."" The book is well informed, plainly written and tells a story worth understanding. Martin Tolchin is City Hall Bureau Chief for the New York Times; Susan Tolchin teaches political science at Brooklyn College.