NONFICTION

Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life , by Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, et al. (Perennial/Harper & Row, $7.95). This study of Americans and what makes us what we are has become something of a cult book since its publication last year. Bellah and his associates have compiled reams of case histories and portraits of men and women from various levels of society. The book's thesis is that the American tradition of individualism, in which self-interest is the operative motive, is forever at cross purposes with community and commitment to others. The authors would have us reconsider our traditional American goals of personal power and prestige in favor of a more communal life, without which, they maintain, American society will falter.

The Second World War , by Winston S. Churchill (Houghton Mifflin, six volumes, $9.95 each, $59.70 the set). Thanks to his election defeat in 1945, the author was able to write this massive history of the 1939-45 war. It won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, an entirely deserved reward for one of the great masterpieces of English historical writing, noteworthy both for its prose style and its record of the 20th century's most tumultuous years. Completed in 1953, the history has held up well. It is naturally stronger on the European war than on the Pacific fighting, and Churchill never reveals the great secret of the war: the cracking of the German and Japanese codes. Nevertheless, from its very first page, this is a work that breathes the grand vision of a born statesman: "Theme of the Work: In War: Resolution; In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity; In Peace: Goodwill." MYSTERY

The Man Who Was Thursday , by G.K. Chesterton. (Carroll & Graf, $3.50). The creator of Father Brown also wrote this full-length mystery, a puzzle of fiendish cleverness and high style. In tracking down a circle of anarchists, each one named after a day of the week, Gabriel Syme, poet-detective, runs smack into a farrago of concealed identity and illusion-shattering violence. Along the way the reader is treated to refreshing doses of Chesterton's rich prose, such as: "The sun on the grass was dry and hot. So in plunging into the wood they had a cool shock of shadow, as of divers who plunge into a dim pool."

When the Bough Breaks , by Jonathan Kellerman (Signet, $3.95). Happy is the professional who can spin a thriller out of the stuff of his profession. Jonathan Kellerman, a Los Angeles child psychologist has done just that. His sleuth is Dr. Alex Delaware, who must pierce through the dazed silence of a 7-year-old girl, the only witness to a double murder. When the Bough Breaks was nominated for an Edgar Award and will air this fall as a made-for-TV movie.

Laguna Heat , by T. Jefferson Parker (St. Martin's, $4.50). Laguna, of course, is Laguna Beach, the Southern California coastal town where sunshine and lucre go hand in hand. An LAPD detective moves back there (it's his home town) to ply his trade, and the book opens on "a perfect morning in this city of perfect mornings." But murder can mar even perfection, and mar it does -- the victim is one of the detective's old friends. In trying to solve the case, he finds himself in a confrontation with his own past.

Private Screening , by Richard North Patterson (Ballantine, $3.95). From an on-stage assassination before thousands of rock-concert fans to a climactic chase in the wilds of California's King Range, this novel is constantly surprising, ceaselessly suspenseful. Author Patterson is a San Francisco lawyer and a former Watergate prosecutor. He saves some of his best touches for his courtroom scenes, which dramatize trial strategy well enough to justify law students in expecting extra credit for reading the book. CHILDREN'S BOOKS

The Star-Spangled Banner , illustrated by Peter Spier (Doubleday, $5.95; all ages). For Washington kids who have sojourned to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, to Baltimore to scramble about the U.S.S. Constellation, to the Museum of American History to view the huge, tattered flag itself, and for whom Peter Spier's picture-books are household classics, what better gift could there be than a copy of his illustrated Star-Spangled Banner? Here are all three verses, in full, accompanied line for line by large, wonderfully detailed depictions in color of battles, bombs, rockets, ships and scenes of everyday American life under the shadow of the flag -- all unashamedly patriotic but undeniably inspiring. The book concludes with a short, solid history of the origins of the national anthem for older kids and parents.

The Lucky Stone , by Lucille Clifton (Dell Yearling, $2.50; ages 7-10). Sweet Tee is close to 14 years old; she lives in a house with a big wrap-around porch with her Mama and Daddy and her "Great-grand," Mrs Elzie F. (Free) Pickens. Evenings Tee sits out on that porch to hear her great-grandmother's stories. The best of these concern the lucky stone, "shiny black as night-time, 'cept for a scratch looked just like the letter A", and the marvelous way Great-grand came by it. The tales take Tee back to slavery times and give this little book unusual historical depth. But Lucille Clifton's gift for oral narrative, notable in her popular Everett Anderson stories for younger readers, also keeps it swinging.

Grasshopper on the Road , by Arnold Lobel (Harper/Trophy, $2.95; ages 5-8). Grasshopper is a traveler on a simple country road. His journey is not so much a series of adventures as meetings, and those meetings, cleverly set up by Arnold Lobel with a succession of various insects, introduce Grasshopper and the reader to some of the typical characters we meet in our own lives. First there are the beetles and their "morning club," from which they exclude anyone who doesn't agree that morning is the best time of day. Then there is the housefly, who is a compulsive house ,cleaner, sweeping not only her house but the street in front of it, and there are the butterflies who are such creatures of habit that they sit on the same mushroom every afternoon. This light-hearted little book is an easy reader, suitable for first graders.