The ""sweet, tempestuous life""? Hardly. If anything, these three dozen sketches--by a longtime New York Times foreign correspondent--present Rome circa 1980 as an edgy, often depressed and desperate place to be. New Year's Eve is unusually subdued, with few firecrackers: ""it may be that an increasing number of residents no longer want to hear sounds reminding them of weaponry."" There are endless queues, a hospital crisis, and a game-fixing scandal to taint soccer enthusiasms; ""Roman squares at night are no longer as much fun as they used to be""; and terrorism seems un-fightable--especially since ""many Romans barely hide their glee"" over kidnappings and the police (recruited from the unsophisticated south) seem over-matched by the urban, educated ultraleftists. Still, Hofmann finds some lingering zest--largely in the Romans' devil-may-care dualities: students at the Pontifical Gregorian University who ""doubtless know more about Marxism-Leninism"" than do most Community Party officials; Party types who boast of having shopping privileges at the papal supermarket; an absentee medical student who studies while supposedly doing a government desk-job (with her lonely mother sitting nearby doing needlework); a condominium super who doubles as a freelance syringe-wielder (""an astonishing volume of medical treatment in Italy consists of shots into the backsides of patients""); even a woman who runs a day-care center that doubles as a terrorists' safe house. And, though Hofmann is skillful in using an anecdote/interview to explore a general topic, he's best at straightforward reportage--on the influence of the state radio/television system, on new tax laws. No great drama here, no profound thematic drift; but most of Hofmann's very knowledgeable observations are unsentimental, unpretentious, and genuinely informative--without the cliches you might expect from that ""sweet, tempestuous"" subtitle.