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Largo (Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die) offers a kind of Ripley's Believe It or Not for the excess-obsessed teen in everyone. The title is misleading as the historical personages that populate its pages are not neccesarily brilliant nor junkies. Instead, Largo gives an alphabetical biographical listing of actors, authors and artists, politicians and Celtic queens, from the eternal (Van Gogh, Sappho, Charlie Parker) to the obscure (Art Acord, Berthold der Schwarz). The entries are layered between quotes and tangential factoids that include disquisitions on "Moonshine Madness" and "Cross-dressing Artists." Largo's method of selecting his figures is somewhat arbitrary: this might be the first time in recorded history that Boudicca and Joseph McCarthy have shared a volume. The main criterion for inclusion seems to be having a degree of renown and a chemical dependency (although being passionate will do). The text is marred by broad generalizations, dubious metaphors and downright mistakes (Balzac was not "the first writer of note addicted to caffeine"; Babel didn't come "of age during the time of Stalin," but years earlier). While there certainly is an abundance of obscure facts and characters, the quality of the biographical sketches is equally uneven (readers learn little more about Michelangelo, for example, than that the great man rarely bathed and painted the Sistine Chapel). (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.