This absorbing study of what constitutes success and fame in the United States is based on Ball and Jonnes's analysis of nearly 10,000 obituaries that ran in the New York Times between 1993 and 1996. More popular than political news or TV listings, the obits focus on professional accomplishment with a variety of life stories running the gamut "from the mighty chairman of IBM to the guy who introduced single-wrap cheese." To assemble their computerized database, Ball, a sociologist with a long career in studying large groups, and Jonnes (We're Still Here: The Rise, Fall & Resurrection of the South Bronx) categorized each obit according to length and whether a photo or byline ran with it. Individual chapters survey anywhere from 10 to 30 of the most famous people in specific professions (including business, medicine, law, government, media and entertainment, academia, and publishing), mixing broad sociological analysis with thumbnail portraits. Additional chapters cover women, inventors, blacks, foodies, criminals, philanthropists, and eccentrics who don't fit into a particular niche. The "Overall Apex of Fame"Dthe 28 longest obits appearing since 1993Dis topped by Richard M. Nixon (the sole president who died in this period), who was granted twice as much space as number two, Frank Sinatra. Agent, Gareth Esersky. (Nov.)
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