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Author sees a historical progress from conflict to a global union.

A presidential election year is a good time to think about peace among nations, our nation's role in the world community, and the next administration's policies on climate change and nuclear proliferation. Writing for the general reader, Strobe Talbott chronicles The Great Experiment, the evolution of what anthropologists call sedentism - staying put - from the nomadic tribes of 10,000 years ago, through empire and imperialism into today's "global nation."

His theme isn't competition between nations, but accord, and here Talbott sees progress toward an "ecumenical state" spanning from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended Europe's religious wars, to today's European Union.

Talbott, a Time magazine writer, Clinton administration deputy secretary of state and currently head of the Brookings Institution, handles this kind of broad survey well. His perspective is Democratic and liberal, but evenhanded in discussing recent administrations. Nations working together, he argues - talking, debating, reaching accords - accept limits, responsibilities, deterrents.

During the Serbian crisis of the 1990s Talbott constructed a "Euromess chart" of the many European and transatlantic organizations, 17 by latest count, including NATO and the EU. The "intersecting solar systems" of these alliances demonstrated "a combined gravitational field that exerted a westward pull on the historical and political East." Significantly, maps for the then-disintegrating former Yugoslavia, or for today's Middle East, would lack such circles of alliance and cooperation.

Talbott writes with a broad and a fine pen here, and his history of peacemaking and alliances, rather than of warfare, is timely and informed. His trust in the virtue of talking about peace in a time of war make The Great Experiment an important book for this moment in our political, social and environmental history.

David Walton is a writer in Pittsburgh.

The Great Experiment

By Strobe Talbott

Simon & Schuster, 478 pages, $30