SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

Readers in the know have awaited this nonfiction paean to Mumbai, India's financial and film capital, since Mehta signed a two-book contract with Knopf in 1999. But they may be disappointed by his first full-length work. The winner of the Whiting Writers' Award and O. Henry Prize has written a well-researched but unsurprising account of what he considers Mumbai's eccentricities. But his self-centered, sometimes sanctimonious writing grows tiresome. Those looking for Mumbai's Dickens would do better to explore Salman Rushdie or Rohinton Mistry.

The Last of the Celts by Marcus Tanner

As the "Celtic Tiger" roars, spectacles like "Riverdance" pack arenas and Welsh and Scots voters elect their own parliaments, this would seem the best time to be a Celt since before the Saxons showed up. But while the Irish Enya sells 20 million albums , the number of people speaking Welsh, Irish, Gaelic or Breton keeps plummeting. From the Hebrides to Patagonia, Tanner, a British journalist, limns how outside forces, from religion to socialism to Hollywood, have put their cultures on the fast track to extinction. Or as that Celtic bard Bono put it, "You glorify the past when the future dries up."

Vivant! (in French) by Gerard Depardieu

In his autobiography, this giant of French cinema--who calls himself "bulimic"--engagingly describes his 56 years of binging on food, alcohol and, above all, work. With 124 films under his substantial belt, Depardieu has worked with half the movie industry--and he's got plenty of dirt. Even better is the section on his childhood. One of six kids from a working-class family, Depardieu grew up on the street. If he hadn't snuck into an acting class at 16, he writes, he would have wound up in prison. That would have been a tragedy for French moviegoers and readers alike.