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New fiction and nonfiction briefly noted; Life and times of Conde Nast; The Man Who Was Vogue: The Life and Times of Conde Nast, by Caroline Seebohm. New York: The Viking Press. 390 pp. $18.95.

Remember those stylish films of the '30s and '40s? William Powell played the lead? Carole Lombard was slinky in satins cut on the bias. Nightclubs were visions in Art Deco, and everyone was smart, witty, and rich. This life of publisher Conde Nast, promoter and chronicler of such gossamer worlds, is just as entertaining and glamorous.

It has substance as well as style. As social history, it focuses on the set that defined style, and it considers the function of fashion, if any. Best of all, it discusses the development of the magazine industry in America with cogent explanations of the advertising and marketing innovations that Nast introduced.

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A middle-class Midwesterner, Nast arrived in New York at the turn of the century and moved quickly from the ad department of Collier's to the helm of his own publishing empire: Vogue, Vanity Fair, House and Garden. Author Seebohm wisely plays down the brittle and shallow sides of fashionable society and the fashion industry. She accents the humanity and presents one of the most readable portraits of a man and a period it's been my pleasure to read in a long time.