FICTION The Hero of New York , by T. Glen Coughlin (St. Martin's, $3.95). All Bill Patterson ever wanted to be was a cop. Now, after 21 years on the New York City police force, he is a detective who once received the Hero of New York Award. But after a violent confrontation with a mob of Hasidic Jews that stormed his Brooklyn precinct house, Patterson is being investigated for brutality. If the charges are proven true, he could lose his job, and the stress he is under is beginning to affect his family. The story is told from the point of view of 19-year-old Charlie, Patterson's son.

Scorpion , by Andrew Kaplan (Warner, $3.95). The Scorpion is an American raised by Arabs, a Harvard dropout and an assassin trained by the CIA. When the daughter of an oil millionaire congressman disappears in Paris, the Scorpion gets the call to find her. But in this international thriller the personal becomes the political when a Russian plot threatens to cut off the West's oil supply.

NONFICTION Margaret Bourke-White: A Biography , by Vicki Goldberg, foreword by Phyllis Rose (Addison-Wesley, $14.95). In 1936 Margaret Bourke-White -- the first photographer for Fortune magazine and the woman who shot the first Life magazine cover -- was named one of the 10 outstanding American women. In 1965, six years before she died of Parkinson's disease, Bourke-White was named one of the top 10 living American women of the 20th century. This woman that biographer Vicki Goldbery calls "a true American heroine, larger than life" was both glamourous and fearless, and her international reputation was based on the excellence of the photographs she took, as well as the lengths to which she went to get them -- climbing onto a gargoyle on a skyscraper 66 stories above New York; going under the earth into a South African mine; and accompanying Air Force pilots on a bombing mission. The biography includes a selection of Bourke-White's photographs.

How the World Works: A Guide to Science's Great Discoveries , by Boyce Rensberger (Quill/Morrow, $7.95). This remarkably readable primer to modern science's corpus of knowledge is a must for scientific illiterates and highly useful as a desk reference. The book is divided into two parts. Part I contains the 24 major scientific concepts the intelligent layman should know about, from the Big Bang and the Expanding Universe through the laws of thermodynamics to human evolution. Part II, by far the larger section, lucidly defines several hundred scientific terms (e.g. monoclonal antibodies) in general use and offers capsule biographies of major scientists.

The Thousand-Mile Summer , by Colin Fletcher (Vintage, $4.95). Born in Wales, Colin Fletcher moved to the United States in 1956. Since then he has made up for lost time by hiking thousands of miles in the great American wilderness. The turf covered in this account of a summer's journey comprises the eastern edge of California -- a rugged, varied route that took him from the Mojave Desert over the Sierra Nevada to the Oregon border.

Final Harvest: An American Tragedy , by Andrew H. Malcolm (Signet, $4.50). This is the story of two men -- James Jenkins, owner of a small Minnesota farm, and Rudy Blythe, owner of the bank that held the loan on Jenkins' farm. It is also the story of the decay of an American Dream -- that a man could live as a farmer, not just make a living farming. Though Jenkins was a hard worker, he fell behind on his loan payments. And Blythe, whose dream was to own a bank in a small town, was forced to repossess Jenkins' land. The resulting violent explosion left two men dead and two others' lives ruined.

Incident at Big Sky: The True Story of Sheriff Johnny France and the Capture of the Mountain Men , by Johnny France and Malcolm McConnell (Pocket Books, $3.95). In July 1984, two men, father and son, each skilled in living off the land, kidnapped an Olympic-class athlete, Kari Swenson, while she was training in the mountains of Montana. The men, Don Nichols and his son, Dan, said they wanted a wife for Dan. A day later, members of a search party found them and one of the searchers was killed and Swenson severely wounded. The Nicholses disappeared into the forest. After Madison County Sheriff Johnny France helped rescue Swenson, it felt to him to track down the two men. This is his story of that months-long effort.

The Randlords , by Geoffrey Wheatcroft (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $9.95). "The Rand is not distinguished by the quality of its ore, which is low; it is the quantity of ore which was to make it the most important gold field on earth. Though the reefs are thin, they are vast in extent. These geological facts -- poor quality ore in huge quanities -- were pregnant for the future of South Africa." This literate, fascinating history of the modern founders of the South African economy teems with fascinating vignettes of the greedy and eccentric financiers, mining magnates and adventurers who swarmed into the Witwatersrand on the site of modern Johannesburg in search of riches, pushing aside the Boer farmers and cruelly exploiting thousands of blacks who flocked to the gold fields for the measly wages.

Starring Mothers: 30 Portraits of Accomplished Women , photography by Barbra Walz, interviews by Jill Barber (Dolphin/Doubleday, $12.95). At first glance this book is a paean to the principle that you can have it all. All these women have had satisfying careers. Some -- like Donna Karan, Carly Simon and Erica Jong -- are even famous. They may adorn the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair, but, this book assures us, they are also like ordinary women with kids they care passionately about. What's interesting here is that many of these mothers also have had their share of problems: children with dire illnesses, husbands they couldn't get along with, all sorts of compromised careers and regrets as well as triumphs. They talk intelligently about the lows and the highs. Through everything, motherhood has been a defining quality, a focus, for all. Barbra Walz's photographs of mothers and children are beautiful, if idealized. (There are no muddy hands here).

A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin & His Son , by Willard Sterne Randall (Little, Brown, $12.95). Benjamin Franklin was the most distinguished American of his time: businessman, scientist, inventor, philanthropist, politician and postmaster general for the six northern colonies. Half his age was his illegitimate son William, for whom Franklin entertained high hopes and whose career he furthered. But when the American Revolution began, the two followed very different paths: the elder Franklin going on to veneration as Founding Father, William to appointment as royal governor of New Jersey and exile in England. They became bitter enemies and never made up. In this variation on a classic theme -- sons rebelling against fathers -- history comes vividly alive.

Defender of the Faith: William Jennings Bryan -- The Last Decade, 1915-1925 , by Lawrence W. Levine (Harvard University Press, $10.95). Imagine a prominent crusader for social justice, three times his party's candidate for president, appointed secretary of state by a liberal Democratic president. Imagine, too, this individual breaking with his president and resigning because of the administration's hawkish policies. Finally, imagine the reputation of this champion of peace and the poor going into total eclipse because of his fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Such are the major events in the later career of William Jennings Bryan, here brilliantly and sympathetically reconstructed by the distinguished Berkeley historian.

Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity and the Growth of the American West , by Donald Worster (Pantheon, $12.95). As the pendulum swings back toward drought conditions in California (where only a little more than a year ago there were floods and landslides), this book assumes added timeliness. It is Donald Worster's thesis that, more than any other commodity or quality, water has shaped the growth of the western United States -- and that this truth has been scanted by such eminent historians as Frederick Jackson Turner and Walter Prescott Webb. Worster comes down hard on the wasteful anomaly of raising cotton in the water-poor West and recommends restricting water use to watershed, rather than the massive water transfers that characterize the "water wars" of today.

Crabgrass Frontier: the Suburbanization of the United States , by Kenneth T. Jackson (Oxford University Press, $8.95). In this study Jackson, a professor of history at Columbia University, analyzes the process by which older American cities -- particularly in the East and Midwest -- have been outclassed by their suburbs as desirable places to live. One of the most extreme examples is St. Louis, once the fourth most populous city in the country, now -- after decades of white flight -- the 27th. Jackson observes tellingly that "after Chicago, St. Louis is the nation's leading exporter of used bricks" as its old neighborhoods are torn down and their bricks shipped to other cities for use in urban restoration projects. This is a fascinating look at a neglected American phenomenon.