Did you know that: one out of every 204 American working people works for Sears; every third household has a Sears credit card; Sears is the second largest source of corporate charity in the US; and no black, woman, or Jew is at the highest levels of the company. Well begins with the three men responsible: founder Richard Sears, who expanded a mail-order watch business by the canny use of ads and catalogs and a huckster's willingness to take risks; consolidator Julius Rosenwald, who had the ""ability to give constitution to the chaos, to turn Sears, Roebuck & Co. into a viable business""; and General Robert Wood, the major-domo who ""established new relationships with suppliers, expanded credit operations, turned to foreign markets, created the Allstate Insurance Company""--and brought Sears into the retail-store business. Weil goes to the heart of Sears' operations: production of the catalog, that ""horn of plenty"" which recently contained 70,000 different items in over 1,500 pages; the ""mail-order war"" with Montgomery Ward; and the progress of an order through Rosenwald's ""schedule system""--from initial placement by phone, via computer, to the catalog center where it is filled by ""pickers,"" then wrapped and sent to the local store. Throughout, two contradictory aspects of Sears dominate. From the very start, Sears took a personal interest in its customers. The Sears-Roebuck Foundation pours millions into socially useful projects. As a result, the consumer views Sears as a ""public utility"" and a ""friendly neighbor."" This generosity arises from Sears one and only concern--making money. ""Being socially responsible can also be a big help on the balance sheet,"" Weil notes. In bringing up Sears' difficulties (with competitors, with the government), he questions whether he's not exaggerating ""in the interest of writing a good story."" There he's wrong, for as much as we enjoy the homespun success story, in the end we find ourselves identifying with Sears' problems and its future. But again, he's right--this is a ""good story.