Faces of Revolution: Personalities and Themes in the Struggle for American Independence, by Bernard Bailyn (Knopf, $29.95). The author is arguably the pre-eminent historian of the 13 colonies' break with Britain. This volume contains eight biographical sketches of political and religious notables and four essays on the ideological background of the revolution. Consider only the sketch of Harbottle Dorr. Never heard of him? Well, Dorr faithfully collected, annotated, indexed and bound the Boston newspapers from 1765 to 1776. His volumes have somehow survived, and they faithfully record how one humble patriot viewed the momentous events of his time. Bailyn sums him up this way: "No theorist of politics . . . no leader of men -- indeed, no hero at all, moral or otherwise, but an ordinary, avaricious, self-righteous tradesman -- Harbottle Dorr yet deeply shared the principles so elegantly phrased by Jefferson, so agonized over by Adams, and so profoundly comprehended by Madison."
Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist, by Carlton Lake (New Directions, $21.95). Whenever two or three book collectors are gathered together, the conversation inevitably, delightedly turns to stories about the titles that got away, the treasures found at estate sales, the sharp dealings of booksellers, the camaraderie of the chase. Sometimes these tales become fascinating books like David Randall's Dukedom Large Enough, Charles Everitt's Adventures of a Treasure Hunter or Wilmarth Lewis's Collector's Progress. This set of "confessions" by Carlton Lake, executive curator of the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, belongs in such choice company, for it is a wry, forthright account of how Lake built up his own and subsequently his institution's magnificent collection of 19th- and 20th-century books and manuscripts, many of them French. Along the way, Lake provides vignettes of famous book dealers in action, as well as a wonderful evocation of the romance attached to authors' manuscripts.
Fumblerules: A Light-Hearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage, by William Safire (Doubleday, $15). Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, to which this book owes much, operates on the bully system of teaching usage. "Get the little book," Cornell English professor Will Strunk demanded, and his rules for clear, concise, emphatic writing -- as updated by E.B. White (who must have been a dream of a student) -- ring out in the same imperative mood. Columnist and grammarian William Safire realizes that a peremptory tone doesn't work any more -- though maybe jokes will. "No sentence fragments," he entitles his discussion of subjects-sans-verbs (or verbs-sans-subjects, as the case may be). "Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do" is self-explanatory, as is -- are you listening, government spokespersons? -- "De-accession euphemisms." Like Elements, this is a little book.
Living Philosophies: The Reflections of Some Eminent Men and Women of Our Time, edited by Clifton Fadiman (Doubleday, $22.50). Clifton Fadiman put together a predecessor to this book almost 60 years ago. The pundits in this new version include William F. Buckley Jr., Alistair Cooke, Milovan Djilas, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Desmond Tutu and Jane Goodall. Few of them are younger than 60, but then it takes a while to grow a living philosophy. Norman Mailer manages to sound more like a whelp than most of his peers: God is not Love, he believes, but Vision. "God has a vision of existence more extraordinary, more humane, more incalculably splendid and beautiful, and conceivably more risky, than other visions of existence that are at war with Him or Her or Them. God is, in this sense, a general trying to win a war across the heavens, and we are the wet and wounded infantry of that titanic war."
A Republic of Rivers: Three Centuries of Nature Writing from Alaska and the Yukon, edited by John A. Murray (Oxford, $19.95). This is a collection of writings about the grand and challenging northwesternmost slab of the continent. The contributors include explorers George Vancouver and Alexander Mackenzie; naturalists John Muir, John Burroughs, Robert Marshall and Charles Sheldon; and literati Jack London, Barry Lopez and Thomas Merton. In his introduction the editor comments shrewdly on the form favored by so many of his authors: "Since Thoreau, the familiar essay has held a special appeal for nature writers, as they have found in the freedom the genre provides a literary parallel to the liberating experiences encountered in wild nature."