NONFICTION

Northrop Frye: Myth and Metaphor, Selected Essays 1974-1988, edited by Robert D. Denham (University Press of Virginia, $35). As Alfred Corn notes in his review of Words with Power (page 5), Northrop Frye is one of the best and most readable of literary critics. Admirers turn to his Anatomy of Criticism as much for the pleasure of its prose as for its persuasive, indeed majestic, account of literary modes and patterns. That book and Fables of Identity are still the best places to discover Frye, but virtually any of his essays and addresses reveal the easy-going capaciousness and orderliness of his encyclopedic mind. Those gathered in this recent volume reflect on such matters as "The Journey as Metaphor," current literary and linguistic scholarship, the Bible and works as various as Wagner's Parsifal, Castiglione's Courtier and Finnegans Wake.

The Fifth Branch: Science Advisers as Policymakers, by Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard, $27.95). The author, director of the Program on Science, Technology and Society at Cornell, is skeptical about certain hallowed aspects of scientific advising. For example, she asserts that peer review, by which scientists in the same field check each other's work, "appears not to be the objective, dispassionate process that its advocates represent it to be." Her goal in writing this critique is to preserve the ability of nonspecialists to make intelligent political decisions in the face of increasing technological complexities.

Shouting at the Crocodile: Popo Molefe, Patrick Lekota, and the Freeing of South Africa, by Rose Moss (Beacon Press, $18.95). This is the story of the trial that cracked the South African system. After being convicted of treason for practicing such nonviolent tactics as the petition and boycott, Popo Molefe and Patrick Lekota appealed. To the great surprise of many, an appellate court overturned the convictions, signaling a change in attitudes throughout the country that culminated in the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

The First Air War 1914-1918, by Lee Kennett (Free Press, $24.95). In 1918 the French air force was the largest in the world. The Red Baron was shot down on April 21 the same year. The first machine gun for use on aircraft was invented by an American Army officer named Isaac N. Lewis. Air-to-air rockets were used by the French. The early dogfights were wildly turning melees: "About thirty machines could be all mixed up together, and viewed from a distance it seemed as if a swarm of bees were all circling around a honey pot." This history of air power in the Great War organizes a great deal of diverse information, from many countries, and turns it into a gripping narrative. The author is a professor of history at the University of Georgia.

Turks and Brahmins: Upheaval at Milbank, Tweed, by Ellen Joan Pollock (American Lawyer Books/Simon and Schuster, $21.95). This is a reporter's account of how Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy -- lawyers of plutocrats (the Rockefellers, the Mellons, Jacqueline Onassis) -- adjusted to the merger-and-acquisitions bonfire of the vain 1980s. After first looking askance at the hostile-takeover work practiced with giddy success by such maverick firms as Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the eminences grises at Milbank, Tweed joined the fray. They've done well at this new kind of work but not without substantial cost to their vaunted herringbone-tweed identity.