Using his established formula, Our Crowd's facile chronicler turns his attention to America's black elite in a juicy portrait of old families eclipsed by loud new money. So much of this casual research is glorified gossip that denials and clarifications seem inevitable. Birmingham has a talent for eliciting bitchy remarks--put-downs of everyone from Mary Bethune to Coretta King--and recording the statements of uppity folks caught in their own self-importance: ""We were the only private people invited to the last official Agnew party,"" one Washington matron coos proudly. Characterizing the social tensions in several big cities--Chicago, New York, Washington, Atlanta--he finds in the clash of values a continuation of house vs. field resentments and quotes extensively from a few outspoken sources. In his unflattering cameos of light-skinned Links dowagers and the ostriches living along Strivers' Row, he gives further evidence of Frazier's Black Bourgeoisie--historically obtuse, contemptuous of arrivistes, preoccupied with ancestry and appearances. In examining Motown's enterprises or the ongoing feud between Chicago's John Johnson (Ebony, Fashion Fair) and George Johnson (Afro- and Ultra-Sheen), he looks at costly interior decorating jobs, corporate achievements, and petty competitions. As his controversial generalizations (""Though most would not admit it, they would really rather be white"") and tart observations accumulate, a tiny fraction emerges as informed and sensitive--but not the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People. Slick, glossy--and a front runner on commercial tracks.