Anne Kingston, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-374-20510-2

Despite its occasionally academic tone, this encyclopedic examination of wifedom should trump wedding magazines on the list of required reading for prospective brides. Canadian journalist Kingston's behind-the-scenes tour of not-always-holy matrimony begins with a visit to the inner sanctum of Vera Wang's exclusive Madison Avenue bridal boutique and ends with an analysis of how much a wife is worth in economic terms. Along the way, she shines her spotlight on the bedroom, several real-world first wives' clubs, Carrie Bradshaw's single-girl lair and the worlds of women who have killed or maimed abusive husbands. (Naturally, Lorena Bobbitt figures prominently.) While Kingston writes, "For all the crowing that marriage is in crisis, the institution still remains the preferred way to cement love," she also notes that a "strong marriage is an advantageous incubator in which to raise children" and "a source of varying degrees of economic support," and some readers might wonder if they're romantic fools for wondering how true love factors into the equation. But Kingston asks some important questions—How does marriage affect a woman's sense of self? Is it possible to place a dollar value on a mother's work? How is our idea of the wife shaped over the decades?—and challenges a new generation of brides to come up with their own creative answers. Agent, Bruce Westwood. (Mar.)