Italian politics, a game played out by well-tailored men with small, blue chauffeur-driven Alfa Romeos in the streets around Bernini's parliament building in the Piazza Montecitorio, is cut off from the noise and bustle of Italian life much as two heavyweight wrestlers in the ring, each leaning 300 pounds on the other in silent strain, are cut off from the racket of the arena. The two heavyweights who have been wrestling for the past 30 years in Piazza Monticitorio, of course, are the Christian Democrats and the Communists.

Aldo Moro known to connoisseurs of Italian politics as "the man of convergent parallels,' was the president of the Christian Democratic party and one of its creators. He was also prime minister half a dozen times in Italy's revolving door coalition governments.

The historic function of the Christian Democrats has been to preserve Christian civilization in Italy, such as it is, by keeping the Communists out. Yet the parallels Moro saw ultimately converging were the paths of the Christian Democracy and the Italian Communists. His last political achievement was to bring the Communists, for the first time, into the coalition supporting an Italian goverment.

On March 16, 1978, Moro was kidnaped on his way to work -- by way of the church where he regularly spent a few moments in silent prayer at the beginning of each day. His five bodyguards were murdered by an urban guerilla commando of the Red Brigades, and he was spirited off to a "peoples prison." Fifty-four days later, he was murdered and his body dumped by his assassins. Not accidentally, it was left exactly halfway between the neighboring offices of the Christian Democracy in the Piazza del Gesu and the communists in the Via Delle Bottaghe Oscure.

Robert Katz is an American writer who has lived in Rome for many years. In this book he has told the story of the kidnaping, imprisonment, trial and death of Moro.

More than that, he has convinced me, at any rate, that the story has quite a different meaning from the one given to it at the time. The Italian political world -- staunchly supported by Washington and the European capitals -- took the stance that negotiation with Moro's captors was unthinkable. It would be, the pat phrase went, one man's life against the Republic.

To sustain this position, the extraordinary stream of letters and communiques which Moro emitted from his secret prison were explained away as pathetic indices of psychological collapse, no doubt extorted under duress or the influence of drugs.

Katz argues with great ingenuity that Moro was using the communiques his captors allowed him to send as an ingenious method of bargaining for his own life. He shows how, step by step, the Red Brigades were persuaded to reduce their demands, from widespread amnesty of captured terrorists and sweeping political demands, to a simple prisoner exchange, one for one, with a single sick woman terrorist.

He shows how the Moro kidnaping brought the Communist directorate and the Christian Democratic leaders together (all except, to his credit, Amintore Fanfani) in their insistence that there must be no negotiations and their terror of what Moro might reveal about them.

He reveals why, paradoxically, the kidnaping killed Moro's long-term hopes of an accomodation between the Communists and his own party. He reveals with pitiless detail how the media twisted every event to show Moro as a human wreck when all along he was playing the master game of his political life.

There will be passionate disputation about Katz's thesis as long as there are politicians in the Botteghe Oscure and the Piazza del Gesu. But anyone who knows and loves Italy, anyone who has meditated on the fragility of the modern democratic state and anyone who can be moved by the pity and terror of a modern tragedy, will want to read this original and passionately heartfelt book.