A leading exponent of the German ""new realism"" school relates in microscopic detail the rise and fall of a cad. This unrelentingly grim novel, Wellershoff's second to appear here (A Beautiful Day, 1971), was a giant best-seller in Germany three years ago. At age 27, failed medical student Ulrich Vogtmann attends a lecture on finance that turns him inside-out; he leaves believing that money is ""the most brilliant creation of the human mind."" Determined to amass as much of the magical stuff as possible, he hires on at a canned-goods factory, where he is quickly noticed by the owner, Hermann Pattberg, and promoted to chauffeur and confidant. Vogtmann also catches the eye of Pattberg's bookish daughter, Elisabeth, whom he pledges to wed the very night his old girlfriend, Jovanka, undergoes an abortion. This callous treatment of Jovanka seals his fate; henceforth he is trapped in an upwardly-mobile spiral of cunning deals and broken relations. In his race to the top, Vogtmann runs rampant over his wife, his mistress, his brother-in-law (who kills himself with a shotgun), and his son, Christophe (who turns to kleptomania to blot out his father's obsession with money). Finally, though, Vogtmann's unprincipled ways catch up with him. Called on loans he can't cover, he is fired and deserted by an enraged Elisabeth. Without income or home, he can no longer hold on to mistress or friends. A heart attack ends his sour, sorry life. Wellershoff writes like a scientist studying alien phenomena, objectively but without compassion. As an exercise in physical and psychological observation, this novel excels; but it neglects to engage the heart, and so, for most readers, will fail both as story and as art.