Lively, expansive interviews with 17 influential figures, having in common both success and a fierce commitment to a cause or career. Diamonstein, who herself has done much public service in the area of landmark preservation (Buildings Reborn, 1978), notes somewhat sweepingly that she went looking for ``men and women who have made substantial contributions to the enhancement of American life.'' Among those she found are Edward Albee, Bill Bradley, Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, Elie Wiesel, Larry Kramer, Beverly Sills, Twyla Tharp, and astronaut Ellen Baker. Because her subjects are bright, articulate figures, accustomed to talking about themselves, they provide some vivid anecdotes about their lives and the genesis of their careers. However, because most are public figures, there are few revelations, though there are some moving passages, including the recollections of Ruth Simmons, the president of Smith College, of what it was like growing up the daughter of sharecroppers. Generally, though, this is an entertaining, often gossipy, but not particularly original or startling work.