MY FIRST THOUGHT on picking up this book was that another unfortunate author had got off to an unlucky start. And since Mr. Valeriani, who broadcasts for NBC on State Department affairs, is most obviously a nice and agreeable man, my compulsively better instinct was to assume a fairly prompt recovery. There is some redemption of a sort. Mr. Valeriani begins with an effusive message of thanks to a fellow State Department reporter, Bruce van Voorst of Newsweek, for "helping to research and prepare (my emphasis) this manuscript." This display of gratitude fostered the thought that Mr. Valeriani might be another master of the spoken word who could not write, else why would he hire a fellow reporter. However, this suspicion was shown to be groundless, unless perchance, van Voorst also cannot write.

One of the early misfortunes is the witticism trouble which arises in the title of the very first chapter. The chapter is called "the Vit and Visdom of Henry Kissinger." There is more damage of page 6 where Konrad Adenauer is quoted as saying that Henry Kissinger had "the most compelling intellect" of any man he had ever known and that he could have become a Chancellor of the German Federal Republic, his being Jewish notwithstanding, had circumstances kept him in that country. That breathtaking judgment Adenauer must have rendered in his eighties or early nineties on (by later standards) a relatively obscure Harvard professor, for Adenauer died in 1967, and Kissinger did not begin to emerge as a stateman until he joined Nixon in the White House in 1969. Even the most trusting among us yearn for an explanation.

In the next few pages yet more trouble accumulates in the form of the Kissinger humor. I share the view that Kissinger can be very amusing; self-deprecating asides are both easy and apt. But no one, not Bob Hope, not Mark Twain, not even Harry Lauder, can or could stand having all his funny lines stacked, one on top of another, for several pages, with no regard for context. That is what Valeriani does to Kissinger, although, to be fair, he does intersperse a few lines of his own. Thus when Kissinger becomes Secretary of State, he asks him whether he wishes to be called Mr. Secretary or Dr. Secretary.

The serious comment in these early pages is also less than grabbling. The author notes, for example, that "when it came to press and congressional relations, Kissinger was his own best agent; he had a flair for self-promotion. As a former high-ranking State Department official described it, 'Henry was able to project his personality in a favourable light to a wide spectrum of observers.' "I do concede, as an old State Department hand, that this official's spectrography has a ring of authenticity - more, perhaps than Adenauer's statement.

All of this, to repeat, is in the first few pages, and one hopes for improvements. Alas, the later pages, since they are more of the same, seem worse. One learns that we once had a "classic . . . World Series"; that Canada is one of our two closest neighbors; that on the way to China the author "had a touch of sinusitis (to go with my touch of sinology)"; that at about the same time "Visions of Henry's Delhi belly in Pakistan danced in our typewriters"; that Angola once "seethed with civil war"; that "at the policy level, Kissinger was decidedly Big Power oriented"; that he once wrote that "the art of statesmanship is to understand the nature of the World and the trend of history"; that sometimes Mr. Valeriani "sat for an hour or more" listening to Kissinger "pour out profundities and analyses," presumably of similar truth; and that "one of the least-known coincidences of all time" occured on the night Mao Tsetung died when the author, having investigated, learned that all three network correspondents covering the State Department had that night dined at Chinese restaurants. Some coincides do scream to remain unknown.

In a less coincidental vein the author tells that Ken Freed of the AP, writing of a cavier feast, said that "two Caspian Sea sturgeon died today for Henry Kissinger"; and that Tom Braden, the distinguised columnist, "who socialized with Kissinger off duty" - socializing being, I judge, a rather innocent thing - thought the Secretary, successful because of his "boyishness," while wondering, in addition, if "boyishness is not a necessary ingredient in the personalities of really first-rate men." The author states flatly that "as head of the KGB, [General Yuri] Andropov was a powerful man." Banality stacks only a trifle better than humor.

Washington correspondents who must live and travel and drink together almost always write well of each other's books. This is a kindly and harmless practice. They may have trouble with this work, although on balance it is better than the recent memoirs of Margaret Trudeau.

It is also a heavy blow at Henry Kissinger, and, conspiracy theories what they are these days, some will think that as with Elizabeth Ray on Wayne L. Hays, love was merely the cover for some deeper political aggression. I do not agree. One should not attribute to bad or devious character what can readily be explained by terminal superficiality. Valeriani, to repeat, seems a very nice man. His concluding sentence, "Actually, I liked Henry Kissinger," is to be believed. CAPTION: Illustration, Jacket drawing by Dwane Powell