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Books -- Leisure reading

2 outdoor sagas look at mountaineer Mallory

Armchair adventurers apparently can't get enough of true outdoor sagas such as "The Perfect Storm" and "Into Thin Air." Now, with the discovery last month of the body of explorer George Mallory on the slopes of Mount Everest, more books about mountaineering are in the pipeline.Some believe that Mallory, who disappeared during a 1924 expedition with his partner Andrew Irvine, may have reached the summit 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Larry Johnson and Jochen Hemmleb, who found Mallory's remains, will tell the story of their expedition this fall in "Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine." Rights to a BBC and Nova documentary have already been sold.

Meanwhile, National Geographic Books plans an October publication of "The Last Climb: The Legendary Everest Expeditions of George Mallory" by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld. -- By Dan O'Briant, Cox News Service

The Home Depot: Built From Scratch, By Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank; Times; $24.95.

In 1981, Bernie Marcus made a speech to a Rotary Club and asked how many of the 400 people in his audience were "do-it-yourselfers," how many owned tools, how many could repair a toilet without calling a plumber. About 20 people raised their hands. Fifteen years later, he appeared before the same group and asked the same questions, and only 15 out of 450 didn't raise their hands.

The difference? Home Depot, which in 20 years had revolutionized the way people look at home repair.

It all began on April 14, 1978, when Marcus and Arthur Blank were fired from their jobs at Daylin Corp. by an arrogant chief executive who called himself "Ming the Merciless" after the villain in the old Flash Gordon movies. Marcus and Blank were dejected, but spurred on by friends they met over coffee and sketched plans for their dream, the home-improvement store of the future.

Today, they have 775 stores and $30 billion in sales. This is the appealing story of a business coup accomplished by the seats of its founders' pants, with energy, conviction and more than a little luck. --By Anne Stephenson, The Arizona Republic.

Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, By A.S. Byatt; Random House; $21.95.

One of the more energetic and magisterial of contemporary British writers, A. S. Byatt is part of a generation of novelists-cum-academics from the provinces -- the 20th-century heiresses to George Eliot -- whose strong intellects won them entrance to the great universities.

Many of the stories in "Elementals" -- confirming its subtitle, "Stories of Fire and Ice" -- involves European northerners who are either imprisoned or revived by the brutal south. The book's repeated message is stated clearly in a short fable, reminiscent of Isak Dinesen, titled "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary," in which Velzquez, staying at a grand Spanish house, teaches a gifted but bad-tempered cook not to resent her indifferent masters. "The divide," he informs her, "is not between the servants and the served, between the leisured and the workers, but between those who are interested in the world and its multiplicity of forms and forces, and those who merely subsist, worrying or yawning. . . . The world is full of light and life, and the true crime is not to be interested in it."

"Elementals" is similarly full of light and life. -- Fernanda Eberstadt, New York Times Service.