Warren Christopher. Scribner/Drew, $26 (320p) ISBN 0-684-83024-8

Christopher, former secretary of state under President Clinton and a veteran Washington insider, has led an interesting life, yet his account of that life is not consistently so. The diplomatic skills of probity and discretion, which Christopher wields so well in the public arena, are not necessarily assets in memoir writing. Christopher offers cursory descriptions of his early years and early mentors such as William O. Douglas, giving over the lion's share of the book to his years as secretary of state. He offers detailed accounts of the many international crises and negotiations during his watch-the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords of 1993, efforts to bring peace among the warring states of the former Yugoslavia, Clinton's decision to fully normalize relations with Vietnam-and explains well the complex nature of these episodes. Yet many details are missing. There is little discussion, for instance, of policy disputes within the Clinton administration or of the policy-making process. Also, with certain exceptions such as Boris Yeltsin and Slobodan Milosevic, Christopher merely sketches the personalities of the leaders he encounters. Discretion prevails, and we are left with an informative yet dry history. Only occasionally does Christopher let his guard down so that we might get a glimpse of who he really is-as when he expresses, with great humor, his discomfort at being publicly bear-hugged by the ever exuberant Clinton. This is certainly a work of value, but there is more résumé than revelation here. Illus. (Feb.)

Forecast: Christopher becomes the latest Clinton insider to give the public a look behind the scenes-but Christopher's circumspection will keep this from appealing beyond the ranks of foreign-policy wonks, despite his recent very public appearances as one of the point men in Al Gore's quest for the presidency.