THE ILLUSTRATED COUNTIES OF ENGLAND, edited by James Bishop (Illustrated London News, $24.95). This handsomely photographed tour of the counties makes interesting reading because each county has been written about by a writer who lives there. They may not tell you where to stay or put you on the track of an ancient rood screen, but they each do their best to convince you that this county or that is the very best place to live in all of England. Richard Adams focuses on Berkshire's past because he sees the place where he makes his home as "a great sponge of history. It needs but squeezing and the past comes pouring out." Elspeth Huxley, while favoring Wiltshire, admits that when William Cobbett rode through in the 1820s he wrote, "This Wiltshire is a horrible county," and that Aubrey claimed the citizens of Malmesbury fed "chiefly on Milke meates, which cooles their brains too much, and hurts their inventions." There is the Duchess of Devonshire on Derbyshire, novelist Rachel Billington describing her love of Dorset, Hugh Trevor- Roper singing the praises of Northumberland, and so on until each county has been claimed and praised by someone who loves it.

ENGLISH COUNTRY CHURCHES, by Derry Brabbs (Viking, $25). A charming book of interest to anglophiles or architects, English Country Churches provides a brief background on England's early churches and on the styles and materials in which they were built before getting down to the business at hand -- which is of course, photographs of country churches, each seemingly bathed in a soft celestial light, and accompanied by text blocks which describe their architectural detail and historical features.

LAND, by Fay Godwin, with an essay by John Fowles and an introduction by Ian Jeffrey (Little, Brown, $35). "Ever since people grew sentimental over the countryside and its landscapes and it became a source for provoking emotion, a gymnasium for the sensitive, it has become more and more difficult to be honest about it," writes John Fowles in criticism of those soft photographs of Merrie Olde England which fill so many books and calendars. The England in Fay Godwin's black and white photographs is a much starker place, but anyone who appreciates photographs will enjoy the harsh beauty she has captured and will be delighted by John Fowles' "strange and crotchety preamble," wherein he explains how he has himself rejected photography because of the "harm . . . the exact image does memory."

-- By Susan Dooley Northumberland, and so on until each county has been claimed and praised by someone who loves it.

LAND, by Fay Godwin, with an essay by John Fowles and an introduction by Ian Jeffrey (Little, Brown, $35). "Ever since people grew sentimental over the countryside and its landscapes and it became a source for provoking emotion, a gymnasium for the sensitive, it has become more and more difficult to be honest about it," writes John Fowles in criticism of those soft photographs of Merrie Olde England which fill so many books and calendars. The England in Fay Godwin's black and white photographs is a much starker place, but anyone who appreciates photographs will enjoy the harsh beauty she has captured and will be delighted by John Fowles' "strange and crotchety preamble," wherein he explains how he has himself rejected photography bcause of the "harm . . . the exact image does memory."

-- By Susan Dooley

Heirs Apparent

IN PERSON: The Prince and Princess of Wales, by Alastair Burnet, photographs by Tim Graham (Summit, $14.95). Promoted as the first "Wales" book with royal cooperation (proceeds to the Prince of Wales Charities' Trust, of course), this volume is a natural for those who thought the royal visit was fun. The photographs, particularly those of the little princes, are technically flawless and very appealing. The text, based heavily on a televised joint interview given in October of this year, is fleshed out with capsules of royal history and lore. Both Diana and her children are, quite simply, pleasing to look at, and this book takes full advantage of that lucky fact. And so have 112 other books in the last two years, selling 27 million copies. Who says no one cares about royalty?

-- Brigitte Weeks

On the Road

THE ARCTIC WORLD, by Fred Bruemmer (Sierra Club Books, $39.95). The circumpolar Arctic spans seven countries on three continents -- 28 million square miles of wilderness that has attracted hunters, explorers, traders, soldiers, and, increasingly, scientists. This forbidding environment calls for highly adaptive ways of life -- in animals that must develop physical means of survival, and by native peoples whose traditional culture is now giving way to 20th-century civilization. Such issues emerge in the overlapping chapters that cover the history, archaeology, natural science, and anthropology of the area. But the interspersed photo essays go further, kindling the imagination and forever dispelling the misconception of the Arctic as merely flat empty whiteness and frozen seas.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CANADA, by multiple photographers (Collins, $39.95). The formula is familiar by now. Take 100 photographers and assign them to far- flung corners of a country or state to document a single day -- in this case, Canada on June 8, 1984. The result: a lushly produced book (as well as a television documentary, a calendar, and a traveling photo exhibit) that captures, among other things, grand designs of urban planning in Calgary, nature at its most magnificent at Niagara Falls, stolen kisses in Toronto, a birth in Nova Scotia, and a funeral in northeastern Quebec. In between are countless moments of ordinary life. Aside from the warmth of the photos, I think the book's secret appeal is to the voyeur in each of us -- the chance for one day to be all-seeing, all-knowing, and everywhere at once.

GREAT RAILWAY STATIONS OF EUROPE, by Marcus Binney, photographs by Mannfred Hamm (Thames & Hudson, $29.95). With their gargantuan, arching roofs and vast expanses of leaded glass, the great railway terminals of Europe seem like huge cathedrals for the worship of transportation. Mannfred Hamm's photographs illuminate the grandiose spaces and focus on the painstaking details of structural elements or exterior design. The introduction by Marcus Binney offers a bit of social history to go with the architectural analyses of each chapter. The combination is appropriate for buildings that have to serve both public need and decorative imagination.

SIGHTSEEING: A Space Panorama, photographs selected by Barbara Hitchcock (Knopf, $24.95). Sightseeing in space? Why not? With the space shuttle taking off every six weeks or so and the first private citizen already selected to go, perhaps the rest of us should begin to think of space as just another faraway place. What a series of vacation pictures Barbara Hitchcock has gathered (using such earthbound criteria as dramatic lighting, form, color, texture, and emotion). In place of local mountains, we see the Himalayas from above, a crinkled panorama of dramatic white and blue shadows. And instead of snapshots of our spouse, we see an astronaut on extravehicular duty, bumping into the photo at an odd angle and reflecting the earth itself in his visor. They all look like they're having a wonderful time. Wish we were there.

TIBET, by Kevin Kling (Thames & Hudson, $35). Walled off by mountain ranges, isolated by political barriers, Tibet continues to epitomize the unknown and unknowable. Kevin Kling was allowed to travel into the inhospitable interior with two French geological teams and came back with a penetrating set of pictures. Kling's straightforward, oddly poetic introduction fills in interesting details on the portraits of the Tibetans. But it is the colors in the landscapes that truly surprise: broad bands of turquoise, gold, and pink are laid down with an intensity and a composition reminiscent of some Impressionist paintings. The captions would be more useful near each of the 96 illustrations (91 in color) instead of grouped at the front. But in the end the otherwordly land and its people speak for themselves.

-- Joan Tapper Ooo La La!

FRANCE FROM THE AIR, by Colette Gouvion, photographs by Daniel Philippe (Abrams, $35). If you can't be on the ground at, say, Mont Saint-Michel or the Alpes Maritimes anytime soon, then you might just want to treat yourself to this "heavenly" look at France. Like the other recent books which put the armchair traveler on a flying carpet above the earth, this one conveys the feeling of a truly magical experience. Nearly every page is a stunning composition of texture, color and light -- enchanted landscapes all, whether the place below is a cornfield, a fishing village or a fairy-tale chateau.

VIEW FROM A FRENCH FARMHOUSE, by Julian More, photographs by Carey More, (Holt Rinehart and Winston, $16.95). Those who pine for France's sensual southern region, Provence, will find a great deal of solace in this intimate little album. A father-and-daughter collaboration, it allows them to share the insights they've gained into the rhythms of the people and the land over years of owning a farmhouse in the Vaucluse departement. They split the book into four sections, using the natural seasonal divisions to reflect upon Provence's mesmerizing beauty, and throughout More p reactions into those of the many distinguished chroniclers of the region: Jean Giono, Marcel Pagnol, Henri Bosco, Lawrence Durrell, Robert Louis Stevenson and others. The photographs -- whether of Mont Ventoux, a local market, the Durance River at dawn, or the ingredients for the lovely garlicky soup, pistou -- are just the simple scenes one holds in one's heart.

VERSAILLES GARDENS: Sculpture & Mythology, by Jacques Girard (Vendome, $50). Does it only seem as if every holiday season brings with it a new and sumptuous book on Versailles? This one is pretty grand, from the elegant endpapers to the 260-plus color plates, most of which practically leap off the page -- they're in such sharp resolution. Beginning with Etienne Le Hongre's statue, Nymph With Pearls, one can feast on the gods and goddesses and lesser deities, seen from intimate angles and in ravishing showers of light. Autumnal foliage, snowy pedestals, bright summer flowers: these make for further dramatic contrasts. The text, what there is of it, is graceful and informative, and there's also a well-designed commentary on the plates.

-- Michele Slung

Song of India

LIFE OF THE INDIAN PRINCES, by Charles Allen and Sharada Dwivedi (Crown, $24.95). Want to know a Rajput from a rajah, a nizam from a nawab? This lively volume, rich with anecdote and period photographs, will help you understand the way of life that developed in the 565 native states of princely India during the less than 90 years of British imperial rule. Three-fifths of India was governed as British India during the Raj, but in the rest native rulers, who owed their ultimate allegiance to the king-emperor in the person of the viceroy, governed as they pleased. This princely way of life is recounted here by witnesses and former participants.

FESTIVAL OF INDIA in the United States 1985-1986, foreword by Pulpul Jayakar (Abrams, $35). Anyone who was enthralled by the local manifestations of the year-long Festival of India, and who yearned for more, will be delighted with this ambitious book. Thirty-five exhibitions prompted by the Festival as well as five of the performing arts programs are represented here with an informative short text and accompanying photographs from the exhibitions (300 illustrations in all, 200 of them in color). Ordinarily one might worry about the scope of such a volume -- subjects as diverse as court costumes, Indian wildlife and 4,000-plus years of Indian sculpture are included -- but because the illustrations come from this year's exhibitions, the best of the best has been selected. Particular personal favorites are a 19th-century ink and watercolor portrait of the Maharajah Jaswant Singh of Marwar from the "Life at Court" exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and "Cowherds Seek Krishna's Protection from the Rain," a circa- 1700 miniature from the Ehrenfeld Collection.

ADITI: The Living Arts of India (Smithsonian Institution Press, $27.50). Of all the exhibitions to come out of this year's Festival of India, perhaps the most brilliantly conceived was "Aditi, A Celebration of Life," held this summer at The National Museum of Natural History. Aditi is Sanskrit for creative power, abundance. The exhibition that bore its name focused on the ancient traditions, arts and crafts that mark the rites of passage in the life cycle of an Indian child. On view were some 2000 objects -- both from the realm of fine arts and everyday life -- as well as 40 Indian artists and performers. This volume attempts, with considerable success, to bear witness to the complexities of that exhibition.

ART OF NEPAL: A Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection, by Pratapaditya Pal (Los Angeles County Museum of Art in association with University of California Press, $49.95). This exceptionally well-done catalogue raisonn,e of the fine collection of Nepalese art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is an eye opener. The art of Nepal may be little known in the west. But it is expressive of a culture where Buddhist monasteries stand alongside Hindu temples, and where, as the British diplomat and scholar Perceval Landon wrote of the Kathmandu Valley in 1928, "the continuity of life and faith has suffered from no religious intolerance, for strange though it may see, Buddhism and Hinduism have met and kissed each other." These co-existing influences find exquisite expression in the country's art. Learned essays that place that art in historical, cultural, religious and stylistic context accompany photographs of the museum's collection.

INDIA ART AND CULTURE 1300-1900, by Stuart Cary Welch (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $65). The 333 works of art that illustrate this book are all masterpieces, and as such are, quite simply, astonishingly beautiful. Examples dating from the 14th through the 19th centuries have been selected from many aspects of the Indian artistic heritage -- both sacred and secular, rural and courtly. Virtually every page reveals a treasure.

INDIA of One Thousand and One Nights, by Roland and Sabrina Michaud (New York Graphic Society/Little, Brown, $40). In 114 exquisite photographs from some of India's most colorful communities, French photographers Roland and Sabrina Michaud evoke the spirit of the world of The Arabian Nights. Those tales first captured the Michauds' imagination as bedside reading in their furnished rooms in Paris 20 years ago. Impelled by dreams of the East, they went on a first trip to the Orient that lasted 1,584 days and was the stimulus for their career as photographers. Over the years they searched for photographic material that would bring Scheherazade's stories to life, and found it in the faces of present-day India (a few of the pictures are from neighboring regions of Pakistan). Aladdin's Lamp finds a metaphor in varied vistas of the Taj Mahal; Sinbad the Sailor is reincarnated as a dark-eyed young dervish from Rajasthan; a bejeweled Kathak dancer in a saffron and gold sari stands in for the Princess Budur, Moon of Moons. A book for romantics.

-- Judith Weinraub

One of a Kind

THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY, by David M. Wilson (Knopf, $75). Although complete factual reliability may not be its strongest point, the Bayeux Tapestry is the most affecting contemporary account we have of the Norman Conquest. Completed in the south of England sometime before 1082 and preserved in Bayeux, France, since ast the 15th century, the 70-meter- long narrative tapestry recounts events leading up to the Invasion and culminating in the Battle of Hastings in sharply observed, often grotesque detail. David M. Wilson's classily designed and printed new book reproduces the whole tapestry in color and provides a commentary on each panel. A history of the tapestry itself is also included, and sensitive readers will blanch to learn that during the hotheaded days of the French Revolution it was snatched from Bayeux Cathedral to be used as a wagon cover, but was dramatically rescued, only to be seized again and nearly cut up to make a carnival float. Now, past the 900-year mark, it is revered as one of the masterpieces of medieval art, for reasons this volume makes abundantly clear.

THE NEW YORKER CARTOON ALBUM 1975-1985, (Viking, $20). It's been more than half a century since "Well I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it!" but The New Yorker's cartoonists still serve up the absurdities of our ways with more style and sophistication than any others. This new collection mixes new work from old masters like Charles Addams, George Price, and Saul Steinberg with some very strange humor from striking newcomers like R. Chast. Readers of the magazine who never got around to cutting out Steinberg's "Lexington Avenue" or M. Stevens' "Prisoner of Pachelbel" when they first appeared will be happy to have them back together with 380 others in this irresistible album.

THE NOBLE HORSE, by Monique and Hans D. Dossenbach (G.K. Hall, $75). Dedicated horse fanciers will waste no time in getting hold of this lavish, slip-cased volume, but even those who find horses easy to ignore will probably settle back and read on if they give it a trial glance. Its 3,000 illustrations include everything from gatefolds showing the fossilized bones of extinct three-toed pre-horses and color reproductions of artistic renderings of the horse from all over the world to high- speed photos of steeplechase events. The sports of the horsey set are chronicled in detail, and even the anatomy of the animal gets a close look. The Dossenbachs' prose is similarly varied, swinging from the textbook-factual to the rhapsodic as their subject requires.

-- Bob Halliday