When the Nazis were marching across Europe, Leonard and Virginia Woolf made a suicide pact: If England was taken, they'd retreat to their garage with enough morphine to kill them both.

The first night Johnny Cash met June Carter, he declared he would someday marry her. "Well, good. I can't wait," she replied dryly, knowing he had a wife and four kids at home.

Celine Dion first kissed Rene Angelil, her manager, in a hotel room in 1998. Angelil, who was nearly three decades older than Dion, reacted by fleeing the room.

Other people's love lives are intrinsically interesting. But when the people in question possess names recognized across the globe, their stories take on a sheen of grandeur.

Marlene Wagman-Geller, author of "And the Rest is History: The Famous (And Infamous) First Meetings of the World's Most Passionate Couples," spent a year examining the lives of 34 such pairs, including Antony and Cleopatra, Price Rainier and Grace Kelly and Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.

The project began when Wagman-Geller ran across a story recounting Napoleon's last words: "France, the army, the head of the army, Josephine."

"We think of him as the emperor," she says. "We don't think of him as the lover." Wagman-Geller began researching the story of the girl from a sugar plantation who won the heart of the legendary general - though Josephine was less smitten than her husband and pursued an affair soon after their wedding day.

"There are only a few things that leave a fingerprint on our lives for all time," says the author. "And relationships are certainly one of them."

The book is not a collection of fairy tales; each chapter recounts the whole arc of couple's romance right up to its loving - or disastrous - end. The stories are littered with divorce, betrayal and disillusionment, but also with wonder at the impact two people can have on each other.

"There's a common denominator," Wagman-Geller says. "When you meet that one great love it marks all your future days."

The author chose couples who not only had great loves, but also great stories with at least a dash of drama. Elvis and Priscilla made the cut; Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward did not. "They were almost too white-washed," explains Wagman-Geller.

One of the biggest lessons she took away from her research is that, "Even though love ends, that doesn't mean it wasn't love."

More than 25 years after their divorce, as Desi Arnaz lay dying of cancer, Lucille Ball was in Washington, receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Kennedy Center. Arnaz sent a statement to be read during the ceremony. " 'I Love Lucy' was never just a title," he wrote.