July 08, 1996 12:00 PM

by Judith Martin

Heaven knows, somebody has to do it. And no one is more qualified than the clever stylist Miss Manners to advance the notion that etiquette is not a musty concept but rather the sum of “civility, decency, consideration for others, common sense, making others feel comfortable, tact, respect and fairness.”

In this latest collection of questions and answers from her syndicated column, Martin tackles most of the sticky issues spawned by a culture in flux: the abuse of smokers by non, the fine line between a compliment and sexual harassment, and the best way to deflect prying questions when ” ‘private life’ is a quaint term for the first thing everybody tells everybody else about.”

Rudeness, Martin argues, need not be a by-product of political correctness. Play fair, she urges, use euphemisms, and please don’t sermonize. Yet, if her book has a fault, it’s that it preaches to the converted. Anyone willing to commit to 512 pages of Martin’s uncommon good sense and elegant wit is already among the truly civilized. (Crown, $30)

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