The Nation 1865-1990: Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture, edited by Katrina Vanden Heuvel (Thunder's Mouth Press, $21.95). The Nation's venerability is matched only by its outspokenness. Who else would have printed an essay on the assassination of John Kennedy a few days after the event by Richard Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate, the movie version of which had been recalled by its distributor for fear it would offend a stunned public? Reprinted here, it's an angry piece that argues that "the United States has undergone such a massive brainwashing to violence that such a senseless waste {as the killing of Kennedy} is a` la mode." In an afterword the current editor, Victor Navasky, observes that, paradoxically, its longtime failure to turn a profit may be the secret of the magazine's survival -- would-be publishers looking for an organ to buy (and presumably ruin) have not found it attractive.

Astoria & Empire, by James P. Ronda (University of Nebraska Press, $25). Stand on the shore at the mouth of the Columbia River and the history of the Northwest comes into focus. Here Lewis and Clark wintered after crossing the continent. Here British, Russians and Americans competed for the possession of a vast forest empire, the finest timber reserves in the world. And here, from 1810 to 1813, John Jacob Astor attempted to establish a fur-trading colony, Astoria. Helping out were Indians of many tribes, sure to be losers in the end. The venture collapsed during the War of 1812, in large part due to the tremendous distances involved. Ever since, Astoria has been a source of fascination, immortalized in Washington Irving's 1836 account, Astoria. This history embraces the latest archival information.

Another Tale to Tale: Politics and Narrative in Postmodern Culture, by Fred Pfeil (Verso, $24.95). This collection of essays is not for the faint of heart: Its style, while syntactically clear, relies on cutting-edge literary, feminist and political thought that comes clothed in some pretty daunting lingo. Still, Pfeil's subjects -- movies, books, music, entertainment -- keep his focus on material familiar to most readers, and his insights into anything he turns his mind to can be eye-opening. For science fiction fans, for instance, he neatly analyzes the shift between the New Wave of the 1960s and the Cyberpunks of the 1980s; other essays look at movies like "Ghostbusters" and "River's Edge"; the music of Laurie Anderson and the Talking Heads, the nature of American historical fiction, the Firesign Theater and the television show "Frank's Place," and fiction by writers as diverse as John Berger, Octavia Butler, Denis Johnson, Thomas M. Disch, Chester Himes and John Nichols.

Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, by David J. Skal (Norton, $39.95). Of all the scary creatures of books and films, none is so deeply upsetting as Dracula. The count is both the perfect Victorian gentleman and a ravening beast; he charms as much as he repels, and his choice of victim -- young girls on the verge of marriage, whom he turns into subservient slaves, hungry for his poisoned kiss -- both stirs and disturbs with its images of violation, sexual ecstasy and death. In this illustrated album Skal traces the development of the Dracula mythos, emphasizing his screen personae (Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski) but also touching on his appearance in books and popular culture.

The Best of Plimpton, by George Plimpton (Atlantic Monthly Press, $21.95). Lately, Plimpton the pitchman and self-publicist has tended to overshadow Plimpton the writer and literary journalist. This sampler should help remind readers new and old of his enviable talents: He writes superbly of his half-serious participation in sports, evokes the spirit of places as various as Las Vegas, Norfolk, Nebraska and Elaine's Restaurant; shares his passion for fireworks and birdwatching. Still, the best part of this collection is that devoted to "personages": Plimpton's profiles of Marianne Moore, Vince Lombardi and William Styron, among many others.

Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988, by John Hope Franklin (Louisiana State University Press, $29.95). Now James B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus and professor of legal history at Duke University, John Hope Franklin is one of America's leading historians. This volume collects 27 of his essays, ranging from his first published article to the 1988 essay "A Life of Learning." That last does not lack its accounts of the racial indignities Franklin endured -- in 1939, seeking to do research at the North Carolina state archives, he was provided his own office and keys to the manuscript collection so that white research assistants would not have to help him. But none of this obscures his love of history: "Very early I learned that scholarship knows no national boundaries, and I have sought the friendship and collaboration of historians and scholars in many parts of the world."

Secrets of the Royals, by Gordon Winter and Wendy Kochman (St. Martin's, $19.95). This is a collection of anecdotes about British and other royals on subjects ranging from sex to clothing to death that is sometimes amusing, sometimes informative and sometimes sordid. But always there is the sense of peeking into a world most people will never see. In one story, the late Duke of Windsor, without a valet for the first time in his life when he fled to Spain after the Nazis invaded France, complained that his toothbrush was "empty." It turned out that his valet had always squeezed his toothpaste onto the brush.