Beautiful Ruins is a revelation: it contains shimmering prose and a life-affirming message. Spanning 50 years and two continents, it asks some tough questions about how to define success and happiness in our media-driven, celebrity-obsessed culture. It artfully encompasses such disparate events as the filming of Cleopatra in the 1960's and the tragedy of the Donner Party over 100 years earlier. It skewers the modern entertainment industry for its preoccupation with ratings and admonishes us to ignore this chatter when we chart our own lives. Reading it is like eating an artichoke. As you peel away the leaves, stand-ins for the myriad tribulations confronting the characters, the anticipation builds. By the time Walter wraps it all up, in a masterful final chapter that both updates and recapitulates his many story threads, you feel sated and satisfied.