A young, self-centered British swain vows to get to know the next woman he meets better than she knows herself, in de Botton's self-consciously coy follow-up to On Love (1993) and The Romantic Movement (1995). ``It took me a long time to . . . understand how someone could have been so un-self-aware and at the same time so self-obsessed,'' reads the narrator's most recent Dear John letter. ``You said you loved me, but a narcissist can't love anyone but himself.'' Miffed by the accusation, de Botton's intellectual hero determines not just to pay more attention to the next woman he meets but to immerse himself in her life as assiduously as a biographer studies his subject. Ordinary as that randomly picked woman turns out to be--pretty, 25-year-old Isabel Rogers is a production assistant for a stationery company--our hero earnestly commits to paper every thought she expresses, every casual mannerism, every minor anecdote about her childhood, in the hopes of proving himself worthy of love. At first, Isabel is flattered by such attention, though she wisely attributes her biographer's attentions to ordinary lust. As the months pass and the narrator charts Isabel's ancestral tree, challenges her with personality quizzes, and gravely ponders such inscrutable utterances as ``I know I should read more, but TV is easier. I should love people who are nice to me, but grumps are more of a challenge . . . I want to have babies, but I'm frightened of becoming my mother,'' he increasingly gets on her nerves- -proving, inevitably, that too much attention can be as irritating as too little. ``And I think we should stop seeing one another as well,'' Isabel continues. ``But unfortunately I can't be sure about that either. I don't know any more, all right?'' Having stuck with this one-joke plot that is, like its narrator, amusing and tedious by turns, readers will understand her fond impatience all too well.