A Statesman's Diary AMONG THE more interesting people of the American past is a member of our most famous family: John Quincy Adams. Adams, one of our less successful presidents, was in other ways a near-giant of American history. Some consider him our greatest diplomat -- he served as ambassador to several nations and represented the United States often and well in many arenas.

The Diary of John Quincy Adams, first published in 1929 and not difficult to find in libraries and used book stores, reveals much not only about Adams himself -- you can see why he wasn't a very good president -- but also about other great figures with whom he shared our stage. Like so many other wonderful autobiographical works by 19th-century Americans, it tells us much about our nation and about ourselves. HENRY J. SAGE Lorton Democracy WE'VE seen democracy sweep across eastern Europe and debated how well its doing here at home. But what exactly makes a democratic society?

Many books have been written about political systems, but I still draw inspiration from The Democratic Way of Life, by T.V. Smith and Eduard Lindeman. Smith, an Illinois state legislator, congressman and teacher, wrote the first edition of the book in 1926 and revised it in 1939. Lindeman, also an educator, added a second part on the practice of democracy in 1951. The book is out of print but can be obtained from University Microfilms. My dog-eared Mentor paperback is dated 1955.

Fraternity, liberty, equality -- the rallying cries of the French revolution -- these are the motifs around which Smith builds his discussion. All are necessary for the democratic way of life, with the addition of something he terms "good sportsmanship," the unwritten rules of conduct including toleration of opposing viewpoints that holds it all together.

Unlike some recent commentators, such as Allan Bloom, Smith and Lindeman did not emphasize the contradictions between liberty and equality, but assert emphatically that equality demands that if liberty is good for some, it is good for all. Idealistic and visionary? Perhaps, but I believe that periodically a nation should be called to answer to its highest ideals and aspirations. For that purpose, we could do no better than to heed the call in The Democratic Way of Life. NEWELL J. TRASK Purcellville, Va. The Hero of India WITH The Essential Gandhi, Louis Fischer has edited a splendid compilation of the writings of the man called Mahatma, or "Great Soul." Fischer's compilation presents Gandhi's struggles and successes as well as the changes that occurred in his thinking throughout his lifetime. Gandhi recognized the transitional nature of human beings, believing that people could be transformed. He was a man of high ideals and principles. For him, the ends did not justify the means -- "Heaven will not be heaven and freedom will not be freedom if either is gained through such methods," he wrote.

Gandhi's perspective is refreshing in a world plagued with greed, hostility and apathy. If one is to read only one book about the dynamic man who changed the face of India and the world, then The Essential Gandhi is the most concise and comprehensive book available. JOHN YORE Laurel

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