The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy by Stephen Fox (University of Wisconsin Press, $14.95). This excellent history is an antidote to those enthusiasts who suppose that the American conservation movement was born full- grown on Earth Day, 1970. It began in the latter half of the 19th century, with giants like Muir, who called the sheep grazing in Yosemite "hoofed locusts," and with bird-lovers who fought to halt the slaughter of plumed specimens for millinery purposes. One of the least-known and most impressive personages in the book is Rosalie Edge, the fiery Audubon activist who transformed the Society from a coterie of passive gentlefolk into a powerful force for wildlife preservation.

Chivalry, by Maurice Keen (Yale University Press, $10.95). "The age of chivalry is gone: that of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded: and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever," lamented Edmund Burke on the fall of the French monarchy during the French Revolution. For most people, chivalry -- with its famous knights in shining armor: Galahad, Lancelot, Roland, and Parzival -- had fled the scene long before. This learned study of chivalry locates its heyday somewhere in the years between 1100 and 1500, "that is to say, between the launching of the first crusade and the death of Bayart; between the time when the triumph of the Norman horsemen at Hastings was recorded in the Bayeux tapestry and the triumph of artillery." The author is an Oxford historian. His exploration of the actual, complex reality of chivalry, its vast literature and the traditions it imposed on European nobility is the last word on a seductive subject.

Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865, by Margaret Leech (Carroll & Graf, $11.95). Published in 1941, this remains the best single popular accout of Washington during the great convulsion of the Civil War. Vividly written, with hundreds of cameo portraits, from President Lincoln to the humblest citizen, the book won its author a Pulitzer Prize. The passage of 45 years has not diminished its appeal: "The good name of the Island (the Southwest) was tarnished by the disorder that frequently broke out in its tangle of poverty-stricken alleys. The less populous parts of the city harbored, not only ill-famed resorts, but gangs of rowdies who disturbed good citizens by their lawlessness. . . . The respectable settlement of the Northern Liberties, located about G Street, had its sordid districts. Other plague spots were Negro Hill, far out on North Tenth Street; English Hill, east of the City Hall,; and Wampoodle, an Irish colony in a marshy tract near North Capitol Street."

Maria Theresa, by Edward Crankshaw (Atheneum, $10.95) and Alexander of Russia: Napoleon's Conqueror, by Henri Troyat (Fromm International, $11.95). Monarchies had a long run in European history: it was a thousand years between Charlemagne and Nicholas II. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, absolutism seemed as if it were around to stay. Here are distinguished biographies of two of the period's most colorful rulers: Maria Theresa, who preserved the patchwork empire of the Habsburgs against Frederick the Great and half Europe, and Alexander I, whose Cossacks pursued Napoleon across Europe to the gates of Paris but who always had to watch out at home for a silk scarf wound too tightly around the neck and a rapier between the ribs.

Leslie Stephen: The Godless Victorian, by Noel Annan (University of Chicago Press, $14.95). Recast and updated, this is more than ever the classic study of Leslie Stephen, one of the great cultural figures of 19th-century England. As a man of letters, Stephen's History of English Thought in the 18th Century still remains a standard work; his essays can be read with pleasure, whether they deal with literature or mountain-climbing (of which he was an early enthusiast); and his editorship of the Dictionary of National Biography helped make that vast undertaking a monument of Victorian scholarship. At home, Stephen was the patriarch of one of those rambling Victorian families, and he is memorialized as such in Mr. Ramsay of To the Lighthouse, written by his daughter Virginia Woolf. This biography demonstrates, yet again, Lord Annan's engaging prose style and superb understanding of this period of intellectual history.

Million Selling Records from the 1900s to the 1980s: An Illustrated Directory, by Joseph Murrells (Arco, $19.95). Collectively Enrico Caruso's several versions of "Vesti La Giubba" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci are the first known American recording to sell a million copies. In 1926 Sophie Tucker's "Some of These Days," which became her theme song, sold a million. In 1937 the Andrews Sisters released their first million-seller, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," which non-German-speaking patrons asked for by titles like "Buy A Beer Monsieur Shane" and "My Mere Bits of Shame." In 1948 Fats Domino achieved his first, a song called, fittingly enough, "The Fat Man," and Red Ingle and The Natural Seven with the Might and Main Street Choral Society got to a million with "Cigareets, Whusky and Wild, Wild Women (They'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane"). The entries in this book are heavily weighted toward the '60s and '70s, when so many more people bought records, but its real fascination lies in its reflection of earlier tastes.

An Indian Attachment, by Sarah Lloyd (Quill, $6.95). Always a wanderer, Sarah Lloyd wandered to India and fell passionately in love -- not only with an Indian but with an exotic and sometimes dangerous way of life. The result is probably one of the most unusual recent books about India. Lloyd, an Englishwoman and a landscape architect with an inveterate compulsion to travel and sample the extraordinary, joined her lover, a Sikh named Jungli in his village in Northern India. Her account of their lives in a remote outpost which had to be constantly defended against bandits, where life was grindingly primitive, yet beautiful too in its simplicity, is fascinating.

None of the Above: Behind the Myth of Scholastic Aptitude, by David Owen (Houghton Mifflin, $7.95). This tough, tart book examines the Scholastic Aptitude Test and its parent organization, the Educational Testing Center, and finds both severely lacking: culturally biased toward middle-class experience and values, unreliable indicators of intelligence and achievement, allowed to exercise an unjustifiable influence over American education. Owen demolishes the claim that students cannot prepare for the test, and depicts ETS as an organization primarily interested in protecting, and expanding, its tax-exempt empire. Since its original publication a year ago, None of the Above has been widely read and discussed among educators; it may prove to have considerable effect on the role of testing in the evaluation of students.

The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, by Andrew Sarris (University of Chicago Press, $9.95). Andrew Sarris, film critic for The Village Voice is best-known as auteur of the auteur theory -- the notion that certain movie directors managed to rise above the assembly-line working conditions of the Hollywood studios' heyday by dint of their style and intelligence. The classic example of the breed is Nicholas Ray, who made B-movie fodder like Rebel Without a Cause into first-rate film noir. (Admittedly, James Dean helped a bit, too.) Pauline Kael and others have cuffed the theory around, and this edition includes Sarris' 1977 reply to his critics. Fortunately, however, the book is far from a theoretical treatise; rather, it is a lively, r encyclopedic reference book on Hollywood directors and their work, with Sarris' prejudices and judgments always available fordebate.

Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy, by James Miller (Yale University Press, $9.95). According to James Miller, the chief architect of modern democracy is not John Locke or Thomas Jefferson, but Jean- Jacques Rousseau. And it was the French Revolution, not the English Civil War or the American Revolution, that marks the rise of modern democracy. "In the early days of the French Revolution, it is said that Jean Paul Marat held crowds in Paris spellbound by standing on a street corner and reading aloud Rousseau's Social Contract," writes Miller. Revolutionaries since then, from Marx to Fidel Castro, have been inspired by Rousseau's writings, which has led to further studies blaming the citizen from Geneva for planting the seeds of modern totalitarianism. By returning to the source of the controversy, Miller clarifies Rousseau's ideas of freedom and democracy, virtues hailed by Marxists and Reaganites alike.

Wind in the Rock, by Ann Zwinger (University of Arizona Press, $9.50). Ann Zwinger is a prize-winning naturalist-writer and a gifted illustrator. In this handsome book she brings both of her disciplines to bear upon five canyons in southern Utah, with special emphasis on the great stillnesses to be found in wilderness travel -- those times when "in the quiet, the air is singing." None of the five canyons is well- known, and Zwinger has mixed feelings about the likelihood that her book will make them more so.

Bone Games: One Man's Search for the Ultimate Athletic High, by Rob Schultheis (Fromm, $7.95). More than 20 years ago Rob Schultheis suffered a bad fall in the Colorado Rockies but drew upon some miraculous reservoir of skill under pressure to get himself back to civilization. In a situation where one wrong move would have doomed him, he made all the right ones. Ever since, he has been seeking to recapture the euphoric super-athleticism that took hold of him that day, and this book colorfully recounts that search and its occasional payoffs.

Sunrise with Seamonsters, by Paul Theroux (Houghton Mifflin, $7.95). The surprise in this collection of essays by travel writer Paul Theroux is what a thoroughly literary man he is. The autobiographical and travel pieces are all but overshadowed by the examinations of writers: John Collier, V.S. Pritchett, V.S. Naipaul, Graham Greene, Henry James. And the finest travel entry is not one of Theroux's patented excursions to the Third World but "Subterranean Gothic," about his descent into the New York subway system. Theroux can be cantankerous, but his opinions always demand the respect due a writer of first- rate English prose.