The meaning of "society" has been drastically expanded since Curtis began covering the field for The New York Times in the early '60s. Society items still include coming-out extravaganzas, charity balls and opening nights at the Met, but they also include the strange party Leonard Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers, antipornography drives in Dubuque and reflections on the too-crowded calendars of affluent Manhattan four-year-olds. Most of these items originally appeared in The Times and, although up-to-date commentary and introductory matter have been scattered through the pages, it is apparent that the articles have been transported from newsprint to book page without changes. The articles "Socially, Watergate Was a Bore" seems rather quaint today, catching and freezing people in the attitudes they happened to have eight months before Nixon's resignation. Still, there is often a period charm in these transfixed ephemara (the study of how the wealthy faced the trumped-up energy crisis in the winter of 73, for example) and there are many telling miniature portraits of persons, places and yachts, and character sketches of cities favored by the rich ("Newporters . . . are not at all sure about celebrities, but they like visiting royalty and Presidents who dance well; Palm Beach has a "social structure . . . as stable as a Calder mobile"). Curtis has a sharp (and sometimes malicious) eye, a neat way with words, a fresh outlook on phenomena that could easily go stale. One may conclude that many of the people she writes about would be dull if they were poor, but they do find interesting ways to use their money. (Harper & Row, $12.95)

Joseph McLellan