The MOST stirring moments in the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration as the fortieth President of the USA came with his announcement that at last the hostages were on their way home. Fourteen months had passed since a group of Iranian students had stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and taken hostage 66 members of its staff. Rarely during those months was the story absent from our news-papers-which does not mean that we were, in face, being told what was going on. The nature of the even forbade it. It was not only the freedom (perhaps the lives) of the hostages which was at stake. A kind of violence between nations had been unleashed that might well have led to saving faces was an essential element in the attempts to defuse it. Secrecy was necessary. Pierre Salinger was asked to smooth the way towards some of the earlier meeting of go-betweens, and realized that he was standing in the wings of a highly dramatic episode of secret diplomacy. He was head of the Paris Burea of the giant ABC television network, but he responded as the newspaper reporter he used to be: he had to discover and record the true facts. The last time Mr Salinger produced a magnificent book by responding in this way was after he had served John F. Kennedy's Press Secretary, when he wrote With Kennedy. His account goes behind the scenes in Washington, Panama,Algiers, Tehran, Bonn, London. It follows the Shah towards oblivion and the two Iranian politicians ready for an early settlement into defeat and exile. Both sides in this dangerously serious game were bound to lose points, but they must not be seen to do so. Outsiders and comparatively junior diplomats had therefore to be used as negotiators, and Pierre Salinger makes clear how these men - who included an Argentinian businessman, a French lawyer and an Egyptian newspaper editor - rose splendidly to their gruelling task, revealing impressive resources of patience, subtlety and courage. By the time the Bankers enter the scene in order to bring the affairs to its hard-won conclusion, the reader has learnt a great deal about the methods employed between nation and nation before the official communiques are issued; and this fascinating information has been gained in relation to a story of the utmost historical and human interest, most compellingly told.