By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Think it would be fun to be a celebrity? The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex (Henry Holt, $25.00) could make you appreciate your own obscurity. "If you become an accidental celebrity, take a loan and strap yourself in," writes author Maureen Orth. "You'll need a media handler who can help craft sound bites ... an agent, a contract lawyer, a ghostwriter, an accountant, security guards ... and [a] counselor for when all the attention fades. And it will. That's how it works now. The media moves on." A special correspondent for Vanity Fair, Orth serves up delicious dish on everyone from Tina Turner to Margaret Thatcher to Vladimir Putin to the "Queen Mother of All Reinvention," a.k.a. Madonna, who introduced her first children's book to the public "while wearing a dowdy floral-print dress fit for a 1950s British mum." Meow.

So okay, it's a beach book--but the author has a serious point to make too. As the line between celebrity gossip and so-called hard news gets blurrier, a lot of complex political stuff that we might actually need to know is lost in the glitter. If you've ever switched on the tube to get some real information, only to behold reporters breathlessly chasing Michael Jackson again, you know what Orth means. Her book is intended as a warning: News now is the up-to-date equivalent of the ancient Roman dictum on how to keep the masses dumb and happy ("Give them bread and circuses"). And we all know how that story turned out. --Anne Fisher