Walter Lippmann and the American Century, by Ronald Steel.New York: Vintage Books. 669 pp. $7.95.

The 60-year career of one of the most respected journalists of all time is painstakingly researched and beautifully presented in this biography. Lippmann's life story is told through the events he sometimes influenced.

His contributions to Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to John Kennedy spanned ''The American Century,'' the period when the United States rose to preeminent world power, ending with its withdrawal from Vietnam.

Lippmann was largely in tune with national policy until President Truman phrased his doctrine of global US interventionism, now known as the Truman Doctrine. Lippmann's outspoken objections to the US as global policeman separated him from the White House for the first time. His fears were confirmed when, as a result of expenditures of lives and resources in Vietnam, the Soviet Union caught up with the US in the military arena. This is a book of first importance to anyone interested in the way America developed in this century.

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