THIS SECOND VOLUME of what is already the long-est memoir in modern American political history takes us, in 1,200 pages, from the second Nixon inauguration to the Nixon departure a year and a half later. That works out at better than two pages per day. The book thus has about twice the daily dosage of its predecessor, White House Years. At this rate of growth in space per day, we may have another 4,000 pages still ahead before we can get back to the Democrats. Both Henry Kissinger and his successors in the Carter administration would do us all a favor if they would remember that in what is still the best of our postwar diplomatic memoirs, Dean Acheson managed to cover four years of truly extraordinary service in a mere 500 pages.

But the present volume remains a remarkable achievement. It will be an indispensable if incompletely reliable source for experts and historians. It has hundreds of pages that should be of deep interest to more general readers, and it will deservedly be more widely bought than fully read. It can be sampled to great advantage and indeed does not seem intended for complete study by every buyer. Moreover it displays a considerably wiser and more tempered hero than the first volume.

The best parts, not surprisingly, are those that deal with the Middle East. Kissinger's part in the beginning of the peace process between Israel and Egypt is his most notable single personal accomplishment, one which goes far to justify his place on the list of Nobel Peace Prize winners. One shares his view that this work outranks his labors on Vietnam. His account is equally prize-worthy. He is brilliant and persuasive in describing how Anwar Sadat achieved surprise, how he himself managed to "dominate" (a favorite and revealing word) the achievement of a cease-fire and the operation of shuttle diplomacy, how the process was extended to the separation of the contenders on the Golan Heights, and even how he prophetically advised, though he did not sufficiently press for, Israeli recognition that a failure to reach out to Jordan would play into the hands of the PLO and Yasser Arafat. The leading characters on all sides are described, and their actions analyzed, with almost unfailing sympathy and sensitivity. Properly first in Kissinger's affectionate attention are Sadat and Golda Meir. Unlike some other prolific recorders--Saint-Simon comes to mind-- Kissinger does better with friendly than unfriendly sketches. (It may be indeed that the only person he really likes to whom he does scant justice is himself. The jokes about vanity wear thin, and the extended forays into specific self-defense are both overdone and self-servingly selective.)

So the Middle East chapters deserve not only acclaim but careful attention. Kissinger as mediator--and in this role made more powerful, not less, by Watergate--is at his best. Moreover, here he has learned how to use gifted associates, how to rely on men who know things he does not, and how to get and hold the trust of both sides.

By contrast the passages on Watergate are well worth skipping. Whether Kissinger is right or wrong in the depth and breadth of his belief that Watergate came to dominate the field of international affairs, he is not himself the best authority on its course. Others have told us much more--especially J. Anthony Lukas in the best of all Watergate books, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years. Kissinger quite properly kept his distance from the White House defense of Watergate, and he does not judge it well. He occasionally seems more shocked by Nixon's bad language than by his bad behavior, and he says nothing that explains his summary conclusion that by the end Nixon "had been judged with extraordinary severity." Does he believe that on the merits the man was entitled to remain in office?

Another candidate for neglect, or at least for selective reading, is the extended account of the stillborn "year of Europe." Kissinger himself calls it "The Year That Never Was," and its failure was both predictable at the start and unimportant at the end. It was a superficial way of attempting to cope with interesting and deep-seated difficulties that persist. Kissinger may find it comforting to strum a long theme with variations on the pettiness of the clever French foreign minister Michel Jobert, but this sort of thing is not really worth his time or ours.

Much more interesting are the chapters on the China connection (short, and a bit sad, as Chou En-lai moves toward the exit) and the beginnings of trouble for detente both in Moscow and in Washington. The Soviet leaders depicted here seem both less agreeable and more true to life than the men--sometimes the same--who shared in the euphoric summitry described in White House Years. As for Washington, Kissinger is not the first or last to discover that Henry Jackson is a formidable opponent, nor is he the first secretary of state to find that arms control proposals and processes which are not acceptable to a strong-minded secretary of defense--in this case James Schlesinger--are unlikely to prosper. But he explains these discoveries clearly, and at the risk of embarrassing him in his present efforts to gain favor on the far right, I will say that he has much the better of both arguments.

In one area I must begin with a declaration of personal interest. Kissinger offers an extended if curiously listless defense of the energetic claims in White House Years that the assurances given secretly to Saigon in 1972--of U.S. action by "full force" against renewed aggression from Hanoi--were matched by public declarations at the time, and that any failure in congressional support was caused by Watergate. Since a critical essay of my own (Foreign Affairs, Winter 1979/80) is cited as the primary example of wrong thinking on this point, I can only hope that interested readers will pursue the reference--I have a few reprints left, and I have not changed my mind.

Indeed Kissinger this time admits a central point: that there was a deliberate decision to try not to share this war-making power with Congress. Elsewhere he offers two somewhat sententious observations that I would apply here: "Foreign policy is not an exercise in abstract logic; if it neglects psychological reality it builds on sand," and, "A President who substitutes his judgment totally for that of other elected representatives undermines the essence of democracy." Would this audacious assault on our constitutional traditions have succeeded without Watergate? Kissinger thinks so; I emphatically disagree. That the matter is now moot may be fortunate, but it presents a continuing question as to Kissinger's understanding of the proper location of the war power.

Finally, this book has passages of great interest on the role of nuclear weapons. These passages reflect a distinct and significant evolution in Kissinger's thought, now more subtle than it seemed in earlier years, and also less strident than it sounded at Brussels in 1979. What he emphasizes here is that nuclear weapons have had little relevance in moments of crisis, and also that the largest effort required now is in conventional and regional forces. Across some remaining differences I must express my strong agreement and also my respect for his readiness to reconsider what he thinks on this most difficult and dangerous subject. Here he is an example to us all.