A lengthy and detailed, albeit curiously uniformative, briefing on Oliver Laurence North, central figure in the Iran/contra scandal. A Boston Globe reporter, Bradlee conducted over 300 interviews (failing, however, to secure the cooperation of either North or his family) and made liberal use of government documents, including the exhaustive Tower Commission study. In the main, though, the result of his labors reads like an extended replay of the public record rather than a coherent appreciation of a true believer. Born in 1943, North had an unremarkable boyhood in an upstate N.Y. mill town. Matriculating at Brockport State College, he transferred to Annapolis in 1963 after a summer in the Marine Corps officer's training program. Accepting a Marine commission upon graduation, North was soon on his way to Vietnam, where he distinguished himself in combat. A gung-ho military man with leadership potential, he was tapped for a National Security Council billet in 1981, following completion of a one-year tour at the Naval War College. The rest of his Marine Corps career is, so to speak, history. Lt. Col. North quickly evolved from an easel-toting aide into a principal in the renegade enterprise whereby the US sold arms to Iran in hopes of freeing hostages in Iran--and to obtain funds for anti-Sandinista forces in Central America. When disclosure brought these covert activities to a screeching halt, North was hauled before a Congressional committee; his virtuoso performance in this venue made him a media hero overnight. Since indicted, the now-retired Marine awaits an uncertain fate. While Bradlee offers a wealth of data and circumstantial evidence, he comes to no surprising or even intriguing conclusions. For all his celebrity, then, North may not be a worthy subject--at least not one who fills the Johnsonian bill that ""patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.