A penetrating, if slanted, biography of longtime Syrian ruler Asad; by a former foreign correspondent for Reuters and The Observer, author of The Struggle for Syria (1965) and other works. A sound biography requires both intensive research and, if not objectivity, at least perspective. Seale's research is impeccable, but his obsequiousness to Asad and his positions renders this bio suspect. Time and again, Seale gives Asad the benefit of the doubt--as when he describes Anwar Sadat's scuttling of Asad in 1973 and concludes that Sadat was an "unsound ally," or in maintaining that a 1986 Heathrow bomb-planting incident by a Syrian security agent was a case of double-agentry (the agent was actually in the employ of Israel's Mossad, he suggests, and the bomb was never intended to go off, but rather to create the illusion that Syria had joined the legions of terrorist states). To write this book, Seale managed to win the trust of Asad, gathering first-hand information on what has otherwise been a quintessentially remote government. But in winning that trust, he may well be overly trusting. Meanwhile, Seale's biographical details are on target: the poor Alawite Shia Muslim growing up resentful, joining the Baathists (for their belief in pan-Arab unity), using his air-force background to launch himself into the halls of power--first as defense minister in 1966 under a fellow conspirator, Salah Jordid, and then, after having Jordid imprisoned, as sole leader. Today, Asad's goals are to continue to be a primary force in the region and to coordinate the PLO from Damascus. A well-researched work, though it offers a less balanced report than Moshe Ma'oz's Asad: The Sphinx of Damacus (1988)--a flimsier book but one that stands on sounder ground.