An interested layman's guide to the peerage--heavy on anecdotes, arcania, and first-hand interviews. Winchester's working premise: ""a combination of land, primogeniture, style and compromise"" has maintained the nobility's preeminence. After a chapter devoted to the House of Lords, he takes us on a whirlwind tour of six noble types: the Dukes, with their vast landholdings and their near-compulsion to divorce; the Marquesses, ""the misfits of the peerage rolls""--the Marquess of Queensbury and his taste for radical chic; the Earls, ""the backbone of the British peerage system--from the Earl of Longford, with his family of artistic worthies (and his suggestion that there be named a ""Peer of the Year""), to the murderous Lucky Lucan; the Viscounts, ""of somewhat dubious origins and of distinctly inferior status""--among them Dilhorne, with his motto ""The eagle does not catch flies;"" the Barons, who include a ""beat-pounding policeman"" and ""Britain's only Communist peer;"" and lastly the Irish nobles, ""the pariahs of the peerage system."" Thereafter, Winchester fleetingly explores certain common traits--notably land-holdings and style, as typified by Eton, Christ Church, the Grenadiers, and the London clubs (where there were once ""porters whose task it was to wake sleeping peers each hour to assure them they had not died while alseep""). He touches only briefly (re taxes) on the reasons for the institution's eclipse. A diverting compendium for browsers--regrettably unillustrated, fortunately indexed.