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La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life by Elaine Sciolino; Times Books, 338 Pages, $27. Decide for yourself whether the whole Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair in Manhattan's Sofitel Hotel was good news or bad for the new book by the former Buffalo West Sider who's spent decades in the foreign bureaus of the New York Times (most recently, as you might guess, in the Paris Bureau).

In Manhattan, the head of the International Monetary Fund (and oft-mentioned prospect for French president) was arrested for allegedly raping a hotel chambermaid and perp-walked for the tabloids in the grand (?) American tradition of humiliating trouble-prone big shots. Because Sciolino's book postulating seduction as the underlying French subtext for all social and political interaction was written long before the Strauss-Kahn affair -- and published almost simultaneously with the story breaking -- Sciolino's book merely compares Gov. Mark Sanford's walk "along the Appalachian trail" (i.e., his attempted coverup of an affair with an Argentinian woman) with the "smooth-as-silk -- and very French -- handling of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair" in which he's merely "rumored to have had a long and deep history of interest in women other than his wife. "

In Sciolino's telling, all of it is appropriately droll -- and in keeping with Sciolino's avant-wink -- if it had not turned out that the vaunted "seducer" seemed to at least one African woman in America as a thug, bully and felon. (After the Manhattan events, reporters in France -- including Sciolino -- have had to report on a lot of wholesale reassessment.)

It is, nonetheless, an engaging and highly entertaining book from a very good bureau reporter about what we've always hoped the French represented in Western Civilization, even if it now seems as much wishful thinking as anything else -- a magnificent national fiction.

-- Jeff Simon