Some close-up pen-portraits of Soviet leaders by Arkady Shevchenko, who worked with them: Mikhail Gorbachev: ``Intelligent, well-educated, well-mannered . . . .'' Exposed to the idealism and hardships neither of the post-1917 era nor of World War II. Open-minded. Less arrogant than most of the professional apparatchiki (Communist Party members). Fortunate, in that his power base is Stavropol in the Caucasus, an area of good weather, fertile land, and the mineral-spring spas so beloved of Politburo members: By greeting top leaders constantly for years and seeing to their needs, Gorbachev was able to show himself at his best. Andrei Gromyko: The dominant figure of the book, clearly a man for whom Shevchenko has enormous respect. He calls him a Soviet institution, the veteran shaper of foreign policy, whose recommendations are usually accepted by the Politburo. During Khruschev era, Gromyko cultivated the much-less-known Leonid Brezhnev -- and reaped the rewards when Brezhnev took power. Has extraordinary experience and political skills. Cautious, diligent, persistent. A master negotiator. A good actor who can conceal emotions or stage-manage a tantrum. The late Yuri Andropov: One aide likened Andropov's character to a fine feather bed that ``you jump into only to find the mattress is filled with bricks.'' A hard-liner, especially against dissidents. Intelligent, self-confident, decisive, elusive, hard to know. The late Konstantin Chernenko: Before he reached the top job, he was seen as a ``second-rate opportunist.'' Pragmatic and demanding as Brezhnev's right-hand man and Secretariat chief for decades. Rude, arrogant, authoritarian, practically humorless, immensely self-confident.