Jackson surveys a century of engorged orgies at Monaco with the same aplomb he lavished on his Puccini biography Monsieur Butterfly. His encyclopedic elaboration transforms an otherwise boring pancake into a flaming Crepe Suzette. You may well wonder why you are wandering through this towering tribute to hyperextravagance and consumption by grand dragonesses, kings, sheiks, financial titans, and a surfeit of vigorous mistresses with their eyes on the balls. Here is Leopold II reading his carefully ironed morning paper while the pale magnolia beauty, ex-Empress Eugenie, rides out a storm on the bridge of her yacht, accompanied by James Gordon Bennett who is addicted to massive servings of Beluga caviar with plover's eggs. The island principality's fame goes back to Phoenician times, though today it is known mostly for Monte Carlo, no income tax, and its permanent resident from Philadelphia (who at 45 is ""regal but unstarchy""). Monegasques themselves are barred from the casinos. The 19th century modernization found the casinos advertising themselves as spas, though there wasn't a health bath on the island. They also carefully planted and embellished tales of great winnings. In 1962 de Gaulle's saber-rattling at the ""wide-open saloon town"" caused Rainier to renounce rule by divine right and to introduce a constitution. Few readers will pause to sigh, preferring to eye the solid gold gossip.