Bill Bradley stands out in a crowd, even in that ideological bouillabaisse the Senate. Rhodes scholar, hoop star, political point guard: He is as at ease quoting Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad and T.S. Eliot as he is gaveling a committee into session. His new memoir mirrors this blend of scholarly smarts and Beltway brawn as he tackles tough issues without a flinch: public values ("Few are willing to give up anything for the sake of a better tomorrow"), the Presidency (It's like "living in a luxurious prison") and the media ("Never get into an argument with someone who has a barrel of newsprint or a truck full of Mini-cams"). Bradley in print is like Bradley on the hardwood: no finger rolls or reverse stuffs, just solid jumpers from the key.
And he manages to hit many of them—without an assist from a sound bite. When the Democratic senator from New Jersey isn't enlarging our frame of reference for America's virtues and vices with History 101 or defending Democrats from Republican low blows, he relates some of his campaign pratfalls and llth-hour course corrections: a disastrous 1978 fund-raising luncheon that didn't bring in enough money to pay for the food; the near-loss of his senatorial seat to Christine Todd Whitman in 1990, which prompted him to speak more from the gut than the Gallups; and the fortuitous decision not to pursue the Presidency in 1992 just before learning that his wife, Ernestine, had breast cancer (now in remission).
In the end, though, Time Present, Time Past can't answer what we really want to know: Time Future. Bradley, a politician as well as a forward thinker, exits the Senate in 1996 and leaves the door open for—well, you know—in the new millennium. (Knopf, $25)