NONFICTION The Jim Richardson Boat Book, from interviews with James B. Richardson, edited by Robert C. Keith, illustrated by Ellen Corddry (Ocean World Publishing Co., 831 S. Bond St., Baltimore, Md. 21231, $12.95). This is an affectionate book, as well as an instructive one. The affection felt by Jim Richardson, a master shipwright working on the Chesapeake, for the Bay and the boats which sail there is infectious. His instructions for building a schooner, and the accompanying illustrations, are clear and concise, stated in the simple language of a man who has never been far from the work he loves. The 25-Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam, by Gen. Bruce Palmer Jr. (Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, $8.95). The author, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, was deputy commander in Vietnam under General Westmoreland. His crisp, provocative history focuses not on fighting but on the "higher levels of the conflict, including the strategic crossroads of the political and the military." Palmer is extremely critical of the war's civilian and military direction, asserting that the executive branch never clearly understood war aims and that the military, seduced by its superior technology and firepower, never advised the president and the secretary of defense on the failure of U.S. strategy. Charting in copious and depressing detail the consequences of these flaws, and at the same time offering suggestions for future conduct, the book is a thoughtful, even-tempered assessment of the Vietnam affair written from a high sense of public duty. Published last year by an academic press, the book has become something of an underground success. Home Before Dark: A Biographical Memoir of John Cheever by His Daughter, by Susan Cheever (Pocket Books, $4.50). John Cheever was perhaps the best practitioner of what is almost an original American genre: the short story. He was also one who believed very much in matters of form. So as to appear to be earning a respectable livelihood like other men, he used to put on a suit, leave his apartment building, sneak back in through a rear door, and spend the day writing. When late in life he entered into a homosexual affair, one of his chief concerns was with categories. Would he become like the stereotypical denizens of the gay demimonde, for which he had no use? Would people gossip about him? This lovingly intimate memoir by his daughter, herself a talented novelist, portrays a family coping with a difficult but charming man -- and with his not unexpected, but still traumatic, death. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, by T.R. Fehrenbach (Collier/Macmillan, $12.95). A book that accepted the myths about Texas at face value would beseless; a book that utterly demolished them would be mean-spirited. The author of this history wisely takes the middle ground of including both myths and reality and showing the relationship between them. It's a thumping, thick volume about an outsized state -- and a tie-in to an upcoming PBS series. Presidential Campaigns, by Paul F. Boller, Jr. (Oxford University Press, $6.95). This fat volume abounds in choice anecdotes about American presidents and also-rans. In 1840, the year of Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, the Whigs "popularized the expression, keep the ball rolling. . . They actually rolled balls -- great big, huge Harrison balls ten or twelve feet in diameter, made of twine, paper, leather, or tin, and covered with slogans -- down the street and from town to town." They won, of course. For the disputed election of 1876, in which the House of Representatives barely elected Rutherford B. Hayes president, author Paul Boller supplies a joke that went around at the end of Hayes' term: He "came in by a majority of one and goes out by unanimous consent." Even the 1984 election is covered -- and the bulk of the anecdotes about it will be new to all but the most dedicated campaign junkies The Last Kings of Thule, by Jean Malaurie, translated by Adrienne Foulke (University of Chicago Press, $17.50). Complete with maps, photos, drawings, and diagrams, this classic of anthropological literature centers on two expeditions led by the author, who is director of the French Center for Arctic Studies. The first, in 1950-51, found the Inuit people of northern Greenland to be living much as they always had; the second, in 1972, saw them utterly transformed by their proximity to a U.S. air base that had been built in the interim. Like Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger's great work about the Bedouin of Saudi Arabia, The Last Kings of Thule captures a centuries- old way of life just prior to its dissolution in what Vladimir Nabokov called "a run in the stocking of time." MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE
The Burning Court and Hag's Nook, both by John Dickson Carr (International Polygonics, $4.95 each). Various publishers have been reissuing John Dickson Carr lately, but it would be hard to find better introductions to his work than these two novels. The first is arguably his finest single work, a novel that blends the supernatural thriller, the locked-room puzzle, and the historical novel -- and manages to be superlative as each. On his train home one evening Edward Stevens casually opens a book and sees a picture of Marie d'Aubray, guillotined in 1861 for murder and witchcraft. Nothing unusual, there, until the next sentence: "He was looking at a photograph of his own wife." Kingsley Amis once defied anyone to stop reading at that point. Hag's Nook, a fine, spooky mystery, introduces Dr. Gideon Fell in his first adventure and thus inaugurates one of the best series of detective novels ever written.
Academy Mystery Novellas: Women Sleuths and Police Procedurals, each edited by Martin Greenberg and Bill Pronzini (Academy Chicago, $4.95 each). Academy Chicago has had the good idea of starting a series devoted to the mystery novella, in some ways an ideal length for the detective story (as Rex Stout demonstrated in his many Nero Wolfe novellas). Volume I includes work by G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, Mignon Eberhart, Cornell Woolrich (a thriller about a librarian and a defaced book), and Marcia Muller. Volume II features Ed McBain ("The Empty Hours"), Hugh Pentecost, Georges Simenon, and Donald Westlake ("The Sound of Murder"). As both books contain work by major writers in the field, every mystery fan will find something to like.