NONFICTION

A New York Life of Friends and Others , by Brendan Gill (Poseidon, $21.95). The author, a New Yorker magazine writer since 1936, is a connoisseur of gaudy Manhattan types -- the rich, the famous, the talented. In these short essays he pinions them like butterflies. Among his subjects are Joseph Alsop, George Plimpton, Dorothy Parker, Wallace K. Harrison and Eleanor Roosevelt. In every essay he embroiders an anecdote that reveals character. Perhaps the best piece is the one on Ben Sonnenberg, the public-relations genius and owner of a remarkable Second Empire town house on Gramercy Park: "In the 1870s the house had belonged to Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, who at some point during the following decade called in her neighbor from across the park, Stanford White, to smarten up the house. Like Sonnenberg, Mrs. Fish loved giving parties."

All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse , by Martin Gottfried (Bantam, $24.95). "My life is an open pamphlet," Bob Fosse once quipped; but, open or not, it was full-volume size. Born in working-class Chicago to an Irish mother and a Norwegian father, he learned to tap dance in an Elks club and formed a dancing duo with his brother. In classic style, he moved to New York after high school and roomed at the 34th Street YMCA while he looked for work. Although he wanted to "succeed Gene Kelly in the movies," it was as a choreographer and director that Fosse made his mark. In a single year, he managed the showbiz hat trick of winning an Oscar (for "Cabaret"), a Tony (for "Pippin") and an Emmy (for "Liza with a 'Z' "). The author of this biography is a veteran drama critic.

The Table Talk of W.H. Auden , transcribed by Alan Ansen; edited by Nicholas Jenkins. (Ontario Review Press, $15.95). Audenophiles could hardly ask for a better Christmas present than this gathering of the poet-essayist-anthologist's opinions, bon mots, gossip and literary pronouncements. This 119-page compendium is drawn from poet Ansen's journals for the years 1946-47, a period when Auden was lecturing in New York, doing a lot of freelance journalism, and gradually becoming the gay eminence of American letters. Some highlights include lists of the poet's favorite Shakespeare plays, his original notions for his Viking Portable Greek Literature, his dream (unrealized) of editing a Viking Portable Ronald Firbank, his dislike of the letters of D.H. Lawrence and Rilke, and his view that poetry is "essentially frivolity. I do it because I like it."

Human Rights in Iraq

by Middle East Watch (Human Rights Watch/Yale University Press, $19.95). Even if Iraq had not invaded Kuwait, its record of human rights violations is so chillingly bad that one wonders how it has continued to be accorded the respect due a sovereign state. This timely book chronicles what has happened since 1978 when the Baath Socialist Party came to power. It's a record of the forced relocation and deportation of Iraqi citzens, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, "disappearance" and summary political execution and assassination. The book also investigates the government's treatment of Iraq's Kurdish minority, against which it used chemical weapons to crush an insurgency in 1987 and 1988.

The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation , edited by Diane Ravitch (HarperCollins, $35). And now for a basket of chestnuts -- those songs, speeches, poems, and other collections of words that used to bring patriotic clutches to American bosoms. Here, gathered in one red-white-and-blue volume, lightsome on one page, weighty on the next, are such treasures as "Casey at the Bat," Frederick Douglass's 1852 Independence Day address, an excerpt from the Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance" ("A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."). Looking for eloquence, one pauses over Chief Seattle's words on the occasion of his tribe's confinement to a reservation: "It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many." Looking for fun, one can do worse than the last stanza of "Clementine": "In my dreams she oft doth haunt me,/ With her garments soaked in brine,/ Though in life I used to hug her,/ Now she's dead I draw the line."