Fleet of books on ocean liners

This year marks, among other things, the 50th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the Normandie, considered by many the most glamorous of all Atlantic ocean liners. Normandie: Queen of the Seas, by Bruno Foucart, Charles Offrey, Franois Robichon, and Claude Villers (Vend^ome Press: $50) is a big, glossy, profusely illustrated account of the ship's construction, of its d'ecor -- combining art nouveau and modernism with French classicism and craftsmanship -- of shipboard life, and of the Normandie's disastrous death by fire.

The only major liner currently making the North Atlantic run is celebrated in QE2, by Ronald Warwick and William Flayhart III (Norton: $19.95). Past and present come together in Liners to the Sun (Macmillan: $29.95), which exhaustively examines cruising as it has developed in this century and as it exists today. The author, John Maxtone-Graham, is perhaps the best writer on the subject of passenger liners, and this is a worthy sequel to his entertaining book, The Only Way to Cross.

Fifty Famous Liners and Fifty Famous Liners 2, by Frank O. Braynard and William Miller (Norton: $24.95 each), provide illustrated ``biographies'' of liners from all over the world. Many a ship which began life in one country lived to sail under other flags. Passenger liners did service as hospital and troop ships, later as cruise ships. One learns here, for instance, that the cruise ship Achille Lauro, which figured in the recent terrorist attack, spent most of its life as the Willem Ruys, a Dutch ship sailing between Holland and its former colony of Indonesia.

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