Hush-hush hype and authentication questions aside, what's here are various memos apparently written by Howard Hughes, chiefly to top aide Robert Maheu during Hughes's 1966-70 seclusion in Las Vegas, which Drosnin says he received from the man who stole them from Hughes' Los Angeles storage facility in 1974. To Drosnin, the memos represent ""a cold-blooded tale of an entire nation's corruption and an intimate journal of one man's descent into madness,"" though readers may find more of the latter. Not that Hughes didn't have an interest in buying politicians, plagued as he was in the late 60s by legal problems like the TWA lawsuit, antitrust opposition to his casino acquisitions, FCC difficulties in his planned takeover of ABC, and the threat of disadvantageous revision of the federal tax laws. But his prime political obsession was getting underground nuclear testing in Nevada stopped, for which purpose he wanted to offer LBJ a million dollar bribe (Maheu was ordered to determine ""who is the real, honest-to-God bagman at the White House""), a task Maheu apparently declined. Hughes hoped for better results with the man he always called ""Humphries""; but, notwithstanding a $50,000 secret cash payoff (in return for which, Maheu reported, ""this man. . . will break his back in an effort to accomplish our needs""), he remained disappointed. Though no fan of Robert Kennedy (""I want him for president like I want the mumps""), Hughes pressed Maheu to try to hire the entire RFK political staff in the days immediately after the 1968 assassination, an effort that did lure Larry O'Brien to the Hughes team. The billionaire's money also went to Nixon (""he, I know for sure, knows the facts of life""), who, Hughes felt, betrayed him by not canceling Nevada nuclear testing (though John Mitchell's Justice Department took a relaxed view of Hughes's casino acquisitions). More chilling than these maneuvers is the fact that they were orchestrated by a man whose grip on reality was very tenuous: Hughes was a heavy codeine and tranquilizer addict who lay naked in his hotel bedroom, windows blacked out, and refused to bathe or cut his hair and nails; he wrote elaborate procedural memos to his aides on how to open cans of fruit and tissue boxes; he was a racist who called actor James Earl Jones a ""repulsive gob of grease"" and soured on buying ABC when he saw what he thought was an interracial date arranged on ""The Dating Game""; he demanded transfusions he didn't need because he liked pure Mormon blood (""It made me feel so much better last time. . . I want some more""). Though details of Hughes's madness have by now received wide exposure, the evidence from his own hand is still startling. Assuming the source material is bona fide: an eye-popping book and must reading for Hughes buffs.