This intelligent and intermittently absorbing history of the modeling industry offers a group portrait of playboys, party girls, and a few genuine talents.. From its start in the early 1920s, the modeling industry has made photogenic teens into flash-in-the-pan stars. Gross -- a senior writer at Esquire and a former New York Times fashion reporter -- doggedly interviews the major players, past and present. He profiles models: Dorian Leigh, who got started in 1944 and went on to run two agencies; her sister Suzy Parker; Jean Shrimpton; Lauren Hutton; Twiggy; and Cindy Crawford. And photographers: Avedon, the master; David Bailey and his group of early '60s London renegades, whose scene was depicted in Antonioni's 1966 film Blow-Up; to unrepentantly imitative Steven Meisel and his bratty ""Trinity"" -- Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, and Linda Evangelista. And then there are the agents: controlling Eileen Ford, whose showy ""mothering"" of her models is secondary to her ruthless business acumen; and playboy John Casablancas, whose sexual exploits were so extreme as to cause one observer to comment, ""John can look at a girl, and in five minutes the girl takes her underwear off."" Sexually exploitative men are everywhere in this seamy industry, and the models who fall prey to drugs and ill-advised affairs and marriages are so numerous as to add up to tedious reading. The few who emerge into second careers -- like '60s star Veruschka, who now makes serious art that comments on the objectification of the female body -- are the happy exceptions. Gross downplays the dishy, insider-gossip stuff that could have made his history more of a page-turner, choosing instead to emphasize business dealings and first-person reminiscences, sobered by hindsight. Model wannabes will be well advised to read and reread these cautionary tales -- and to hide this volume from their parents.