January 19, 1981 12:00 PM

by Clive Hamilton

This massive volume about the live theater from its beginnings in Egyptian rites is a well-illustrated Who’s Who. It covers everyone from Thespis, the sixth-century B.C. Greek actor who lent his name to the profession, to Meryl Streep, born in 1950. In between are colorful old engravings, marvelous sepia photographs and other appropriate adornments. The descriptions of the personalities read like press releases. But that’s exactly the kind of book this is: a beautiful piece of puffery that is fun to hold and thumb through. (St. Martin’s Press, $29.95)

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