A well-intentioned though superficial look at the Central American nation that--in striking contrast to its turbulent neighbors--stands firm for peace, prosperity, and democracy; plus effusive praise for its president, Oscar Arias Sanchez. Rolbein (Sting of the Bee, 1987) has a commendable idea: while most journalists rush to Central America to report armed conflict and social disorder, he accentuates the positive and promotes Costa Rica as a model for the region. Costa Rica--which abolished its army in 1948--is a country with democratic traditions, a strong middle class, and a commitment to social-justice programs that do not infringe on individual rights. While consistently friendly to the US, Costa Rica has charted its own course in foreign policy. Its President won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to bring peace and democracy to the region; this event is a large part of the reason for Rolbein's book--which reads like a quick job: breezy summaries of history and background interspersed with anecdotes and observations from what seems to have been a rather brief visit. Rolbein has met Arias, but hi quoting him relies mostly on published speeches; he admits his Spanish is ""barely passable,"" and almost all of his sources in Costa Rica are Americans: diplomats, businessmen, and expatriates. The prose is enthusiastic and awkward: ""As a close brush with death heightens the joys of simple living, the basic fabric of Costa Rican life weaves into a tapestry made more wonderful by the close brush of despair around it."" A timely introduction to a small but significant nation, but Rolbein's idealistic account would have more impact if the treatment weren't so simplistic.