A Stranger in the Kingdom , by Howard Frank Mosher (Dell Laurel, $9.95). It is 1952 in Kingdom County, Vermont. In the small town where 13-year-old Jim Kinneson lives, people are rich in memories and in pride. And then an outsider comes to town, the new preacher, Walter Andrews. When a teen-age girl is killed, Andrews, a black man, is arrested and charged with murder, and the latent racism festering among the townspeople threatens to tear the Kingdom apart.
The Convict and Other Stories , by James Lee Burke (Little Brown, $7.95). Present in many of these stories are old-fashioned notions such as courage, honor and doing the right thing. In the title story a boy tells us how his father discovered an escaped convict on their farm, but refused to call the sheriff. "You have to make choices in this world," the father says, "and right now I choose not to be responsible for any more suffering in this man's life." In "Uncle Sidney and the Mexicans," a farmer hires a group of black and Mexican pickers who the members of the Growers Association believe are communists. "Just make sure your daddy gets me six hard workers that ain't welcomed nowhere," he tells the girl whose father is organizing the pickers. James Lee Burke is author of the Dave Robicheaux series of mystery novels.
Denim: An American Legend , by Iain Finlayson (Fireside, $17.95). Though the original name, serge de Nimes, is French, few things seem as wholly American as denim. The first American bluejeans were made by Levi Strauss and sold to miners during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Tough and longwearing, Strauss's pants soon became general workwear for men (and women) all over the country. Now, of course, this stuff of which jeans, shirts and jackets are made has come to symbolize a certain American rough and readiness, from the cowboy to Marlon Brando. This book is a kind of history cum tribute to American denim, from its beginnings in California to its adoption as a mark of gay style.
Arna Bontemps -- Langston Hughes: Letters 1925-1967 , edited by Charles H. Nichols (Paragon House, $14.95). This is a collection of about 500 letters culled from the more than 2,000 these two important black literary figures exchanged. Though Langston Hughes is, of course, the better known, Arna Bontemps also wrote prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction and sought to change the face of American literature. Bontemps himself called the letters "the immediate response of two writers to events and conditions that touched their careers," as well as "the fullest documentation of the Afro-American experience in the new world, artistic, intellectual, covering the mid-20th century, one is likely to find anywhere."
Revolution: The Reagan Legacy , by Martin Anderson (Hoover Institution Press, $11.95). The author, a former professor at Columbia University, was economic policy adviser to President Reagan. He is credited with creating Reaganomics, and his book, a spirited defense of Reagan's leadership in ending the Cold War, is considered by many to be the best insider's account of the Reagan presidency, despite its fulminations against liberal journalists. There are fascinating vignettes of men in power, such as the time when Secretary of State Alexander Haig, following the assassination attempt on Reagan, seized the podium in the White House Press Room to assert that he was in control of the government.
In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade , by Robin Wright (Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, $10.95). On Feb. 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran after 14 years in exile. He immediately disavowed the moderate revolutionary government and installed a regime acceptable to the fundamentalist high clergy. In November of that year, students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran. So began a decade of seemingly self-defeating actions which seem to Westerners a dizzying exercise in how not to conduct a foreign policy. The author won a 1989 National Magazine Award for her coverage of Iran for The New Yorker.
The Ambition and the Power: A True Story of Washington , by John M. Barry (Penguin, $12.95). Less than three years ago House Speaker Jim Wright was one of the most powerful men in government. How his power eroded and collapsed is the subject of this report. The author, given unparalleled access to Wright's private office, expected to write a different kind of book: a journal of a triumphant legislative year. Instead, he ended up chronicling how private greed forced the first resignation of a speaker in American history.
Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945 , by Russell F. Weigley (Indiana University Press, $19.95). This is a history -- by the dean of American military historians -- of the final onslaught on Hitler's Reich. The victory was impressive, but by no means a sure thing: In 1940 the U.S. Army was a couple of hundred thousand men, supported by cavalry and artillery horses and pack mules. What made the expansion to a mechanized army of millions capable of wrestling with the Wehrmacht was a corps of 12,000-13,000 officers who had succeeded in "preparing themselves mentally for the transition to a greater extent than the observer of mounted parades and maneuvers -- and polo matches -- might have expected." The officers did so thanks largely to an "excellent military school system modeled on European examples" and linked, somewhat incongruously, with a frontier constabulary with an Indian-fighting past.
The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power , by Robert I. Rotberg with the collaboration of Miles F. Shore (Oxford, $16.95). Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) dreamed of an Africa that was British from Capetown to Cairo. In a short life, he amassed a fortune in gold and diamonds that gave him the means to pursue his colonization schemes. For a while it looked like he might achieve his goal. But his vision was fundamentally racist and never foresaw the rise of African nationalism. He did endow the most prestigious education fellowships in the English-speaking world. This revisionist biography of Rhodes, 17 years in the writing, is the most thorough biography of the man. Written with the aid of a Harvard psychiatrist, it suggests that Rhodes was a homosexual.