A down-to-earth briefing on four decades of arms-control diplomacy that doubles as a tribute to Paul Nitze, an enduring player in the high-stakes game. Chief of Time magazine's Washington bureau, Talbott (Deadly Gambits, Endgame, etc.) focuses on Nitze's checkered career in public service to provide a detailed history of US/USSR arms negotiations since the end of WW II. Still active at 81, Nitze, who married well (a Standard Oil heiress) and earned big money on Wall Street, has shown remarkable consistency over time. As vice chairman of the Strategic Bombing Survey in the Pacific theater, for example, he concluded that the atomic bomb was a ""useful instrument,"" albeit not an absolute weapon. Nonetheless convinced that even marginal differences in the composition as well as size of the superpowers' nuclear arsenals are politically and militarily consequential, he continues to be ""a kind of Paul Revere,"" riding out to warn his government and fellow citizens of strategic vulnerabilities. Talbott makes a fine job of documenting how Nitze's concern for deterrence and conviction that treaties are means to ensure national security, not ends in themselves, have informed his relationships with friend and foe since the Nixon era. At the heart of the narrative is a vivid account of how Nitze helped ""finesse"" the widely acclaimed Washington/Kremlin accord on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces--despite such stumbling blocks as the Reagan Administration's preoccupation with SDI, Gorbachev's determined opposition to the Star Wars program, and a ""lost weekend"" in Reykjavik. Talbott argues that elder statesman Nitze has conferred on the next tenant of the White House the blessing of continuity that spans an eventful 40-year period. A savvy, accessible, and absorbing reprise of geopolitical affairs very much in the public interest.