Like Sabatini's Scaramouch, Noonan seems to have been born with (or acquired) the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. On the basis of her candid, perceptive impressions of life as a White House speechwriter--which afford keener insights and better intelligence on how government works (or doesn't) than more traditional memoirs--she clearly needed full measures of both attributes. Paradoxically, perhaps, the author comes from a large working-class family of Irish-Catholics who invariably voted straight Democratic tickets. Having earned her own way through Fairleigh Dickinson Univ., she landed at CBS, where she became Dan Rather's radio ghost. A ""bleeding-heart conservative"" by conviction, Noonan (then 33) used her suspect credentials to win a job with the Reagan Administration early in 1984. Among other virtues, her often sardonic, consistently introspective recollections provide vivid behind-the-scenes glimpses of moderate and right-wing Republicans vying for control of the executive branch. A far from passive voice, the author fought hard with State Department and NSC bureaucrats who mutilated her literate prose in the name of policy. Nor was being a woman in a bastion of ambitious males with conflicting agendas all peaches and cream. In time, however, Noonan's talents as a wordsmith (a sobriquet she loathes) secured her important assignments--and visibility. Confiding dreams as well as aspirations throughout the engagingly episodic text, she does not pretend to inside information on substantive matters beyond her purview. But she does purvey score-settling profiles of James MacFarlane (whose bent for doublespeak could bring communication to a dead stop), Ollie North (a loose can-do cannon), the turf-conscious Don Regan, and a host of lesser lights. Noonan has kinder words for President Reagan (who commands her respect as well as affection), Dick Darman, George Shultz, and others, including George Bush (for whom she composed such signature phrases as ""a kinder, gentler nation"" and ""a thousand points of light""). Special and rewarding, if unconventional, reminiscences of a personal odyssey marked by professional gains and private losses.