A broad collection of pieces by the MacNeil/Lehrer commentator and author of Life Itself (1992) and Children of War (1983). (Over half of the latter is reprinted here). The ``Man in the Water'' is the heroic passenger in the 1982 air crash who pulled others from the icy Potomac and then perished. With such unforgettable, often inexplicable images, Rosenblatt connects the subject of death with ``the deepest mysteries,'' which he finds ``in facts.'' In the tradition of his heartbreaking essays on children in Cambodia, Belfast, and Lebanon, his recent essay on the Sudan describes a civilization ``on the brink of extinction.'' Some 100,000 boys walked barefoot, sometimes 1,000 miles for weeks or months, to escape the warfare that killed their families and destroyed their Sudanese villages, where Rosenblatt noticed a sign in a hospital posted for the American Ambassador that read ``thank you for coming to see us dying of disease and injuries.'' Rosenblatt conveys the horror of this desolate, isolated landscape ruled by the ``silence'' of starving children too weak to cry out and by the world's failure to recognize and respond. Always analytical, he attempts to decipher Nixon, Reagan, the Louds, Murphy Brown, ``Black Autobiography,'' Lewis Thomas facing death, the teaching of literature, and even ``beauty''--which he recognized in the presence of three elderly women who would read to him as a child. The guiding persona who seeks out morally wrenching subjects is also funny on the subjects of fast food, his attempts to diet, and his brother's telephone pranks. His iconoclastic advice to journalists is to ``betray your sources'' and to ``dwell in a state of puzzlement'' by acknowledging contradictions in people like his courtly physician father and in situations like the ``remote control'' Gulf War, where television seemed to lead away from the truth. In these acute observations and provocative stories, Rosenblatt proves himself one of America's finest and most needed commentators.