What woman doesn't want to be more beautiful? . . . have the perfect hairstyle? . . . the most flattering makeup? . . . the best manicure . . . or the leanest, fittest figure?

Banking (literally!) on the rhetorical nature of these questions, publishers have been turning out beauty books as fast as they can sign up the writers. There are workbooks, picture books, textbooks and combinations of the three. Some focus on hair, some on makeup and some, more generally, on head-to-toe good grooming. The information doesn't vary significantly from beauty book to beauty book--there are just so many ways to line lips or polish nails!--but where publishing ingenuity comes to bear is in creative marketing. Whether it's a hair, makeup or general beauty book--the three most common categories --each is slanted to take advantage of the narcissistic weaknesses of a carefully targeted audience.

Take Beauty After 40 by Susan Sommers and The Miss Universe Beauty Book by Susan Duff. Both in the "general" genre, they present similar solid all-around information that runs the gamut from hair, skin and nail care to makeup how-tos. But, while the former is very specifically geared to women concerned with aging (it deals, for example, with special makeup techniques for after cosmetic surgery and haircoloring for fading and graying hair), the latter is geared to closet beauty queens--those who have more than a passing interest in the behind-the- scenes machinations of the pageants and the personalities involved. The message in both is the same: You can look as fabulous after 40 as the over-40 movie stars and celebrities in the Sommers' book . . . or as beautiful as the beauty queens in the Duff book. All it takes: a quick read (and an open mind!).

Part of the publishers' ploy is to zero in on women's biggest beauty concerns--and, as magazine coverlines show, makeup artistry and hairstyling are two that top the list month after month. As a result, hairstylists and makeup artists are coming out with stacks of books. Two of the best: The Chadwick System: Discovering the Perfect Hairstyle for You and Be Your Own Makeup Artist--Jerome Alexander's Complete Makeup Workbook. Both big glossy books, they present carefully-thought-out theories in accessible language.

The Alexander theory of makeup is based on the notion that an oval-shaped face--because it has the most pleasing width/length ratio--is the perfect face and, regardless of your own face shape (whether it's round, oblong, square, diamond, triangular or an inverted triangle) you can use makeup ("makeup is magic") to turn it into a perfect oval. What it involves: An understanding of the light/dark principle--that is, light colors make things seem bigger so any part of your face that falls inside an imaginary oval should be highlighted to bring it forward, create the illusion of largeness; and dark colors make things recede so any part of your face that falls outside the imaginary oval should be shaded to make it seem smaller.

The same principle can be applied to specific features, too. Using the light/dark principle you can create the illusion of high cheekbones, an elongated aristocratic nose, evenly spaced eyes. You can correct deep-set, protruding or down- slanted eyes; or too-thin or mismatched lips. If all this seems abstract now, step-by-step instructions and artful illustrations will make makeup artistry seem feasible--to say nothing of just plain interesting.

What Alexander does for makeup, the Chadwicks do for hair. They turn the mystery of hairstyling into a well-orchestrated science. They teach you how to determine your hair type-- they've established 27 different types--based on its texture (whether it's fine, medium or coarse), its formation (whether it's straight, wavy or curly) and its quantity (whether it's thin, medium or thick). Then, once you've found your hair's TFQ quotient you'll be able to decide, with the help of a chart, which of the 40 (photographed) styles is right for you. The chart tells you which will work easily, naturally, with your hair type, which require styling and which are not recommended. You'll also learn which facial features the styles highlight, which they hide and which body proportions they flatter-- plus you're given guidelines on how to get the cuts behind the styles. The book is packed with details--all understandable and easy to piece together.

As a point of contrast consider Jose Eber's pretentious picture book, Shake Your Head, Darling. Its most obvious pretense is that it purports to teach you how to choose a hairstyle that will "fit your face, your hair type and your life." It does none of the above. What it does do: It tells you that Jose knows the stars . . . that he's one of them! Yes, that's Jose posing with each and every one of his famous (and sometimes not-so-famous) clients. But don't despair, he tells you, "Don't feel stranded, darling" (that's you, the reader, darling--and not for the first or last time). "It's not you off there, with me out here in Beverly Hills, unable to help you . . . I have given you the information you need to find a hairstylist who can make you prettier . . . If the hairstylist says this is the craziest thing he's ever heard of, hang up, darling." With help like this, who needs a hairstylist?