IF EVER A BOOK FUNCTIONED AS AN instruction manual for almost every aspect of life, it's this ultimate consumer annual by U.S. News & World Report editors Bernstein and Ma. Sometimes right-on, sometimes way-out, the book covers subjects ranging from life before birth ("When Morning Sickness Hits") to school days ("What Makes an All-Star Speller"), from careers ("Job Hunting in Cyberspace") to investing ("A Get Rich Slowly Scheme") and beyond ("Do You Need a Will?").
Readers may become better citizens after checking out the full text of the Constitution, or better travelers with the book's rundown of countries by continent. In brief passages, Q&As and charts, this hefty paperback distills information from more than 450 experts on an awesome array of subjects. Beyond movies, sports, cars, computers and the weather, there is "Facts for Life," a catchall section that offers "A Beachgoer's Guide to Tides." (After checking in there, try turning to the box on "How Sunscreens Stack Up.") The 1,006-page guide is a resource for those seeking information on a need-to-know basis or just killing time. Readers even get the last word, thanks to a questionnaire where they can gripe, praise or suggest new topics, just in case there's an area the editors and their 37 reporters haven't explored. (Random House, $13.95)