Reading the Gingrich catalog, you get used to intimations — or are they threats? — of Armageddon. Windows are slamming shut, or are just about to, all over the place, all the time. “Time is running out,” he wrote toward the end of “Window of Opportunity,” 27 years ago. It’s no wonder that Washington thinks he’s so smart: Gingrich was panicky before panicky was cool. The political class runs on his kind of excitement, as one crisis of the century succeeds another, week by week. Politics on its own terms is so boring — decades of the same issues, the same interests, the same charges of heartlessness against Republicans and of profligacy against Democrats — that attention has to be stoked by artificial means.

Gingrich is better than anyone in the capital at arousing interest and maintaining the capacity to surprise. Open one of his books at random, and who knows what you’ll find? “Congressman Bob Walker of Pennsylvania has been exploring the possible benefits of weightlessness to people currently restricted to wheelchairs.” (He has?) He is mad for adjectives: stunning, grotesque, enormous. His verbs get goosed, too, adverbially: remarkably, dramatically. The intensifiers are part of what Gingrich in a later book called “my usual boyish exuberance.” In his books the exuberance works as a stay against the approaching cataclysm.

After escaping the crossroads through the window, the reader follows the first chapter of this first book as it rushes into a discussion of the sclerotic technology of the welfare state circa 1984, the lengthening American life span, the futurist Alvin Toffler, space tourism, newfangled telephones, organic farming, the exercise boom, the return of apprenticeships, the decentralization of higher education, the rise of Methodism in Britain and the Third Great Awakening in America, Disraeli’s kinky sexual arrangements before he cleaned up his act, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, historical revisionism, Idi Amin, Jimmy Carter’s bungling of the Ayatollah, the future of Gabon and his, Gingrich’s, daughter’s year off in France.