NONFICTION

The People of Concord: One Year in the Flowering of New England , by Paul Brooks (Globe Pequot Press, 138 West Main St., P.O. Box Q, Chester, Ct. 06412; $19.95). The one year is 1846. The residents of Concord, Mass., are agitated by the Mexican War and debate the abolition of slavery. Still, life is pleasant, and the town knows few social distinctions. Its leading farmer, Edmund Hosmer, is a close friend of Emerson. So is the town jailor, Sam Staples, who by the way offered to pay Thoreau's fine rather than jail him for tax resistance. On New Year's Day, the town physician, the much-loved Josiah Bartlett, burns his patients' unpaid bills. The author of this charming evocation of Concord's great era was for many years a senior editor at Houghton Mifflin. The Day the Holocaust Began: The Odyssey of Herschel Grynszpan, by Gerald Schwab (Praeger, $21.95). Over 50 years ago, on Nov. 7, 1938, a 17-year-old Jewish youth of Polish extraction named Herschel Grynszpan walked into the German Embassy in Paris and shot and fatally wounded the 29-year-old secretary of legation, Ernst Eduard vom Rath. The incident provided the Nazi regime with the pretext for an orgy of terror against German Jews later that month, the awful events we know as Kristallnacht -- "the night of broken glass." This history, a footnote to that of the Holocaust, tells the story of the trial and eventual liquidation of Grynszpan as completely as it ever will be known. The Oxford Guide to Card Games, by David Parlett (Oxford, $29.95). Not a manual like Hoyle's, though Parlett does give the basic rules to the games discussed, this is essentially a history of man's fascination with "the devil's storybook." Parlett discusses the development of scores of card games, their strategies, geography and variations, their years of popularity and neglect. Primero, we learn, was the preferred game of the Tudor court; picquet is generally considered the best, and most demanding, two-handed game; the earliest technical details about card games occur in The Book on Games of Chance, written in 1564 by the mathematician and astrologer Girolamo Cardano. This is just the book to while away the evenings with until the next Friday-night poker game or Sunday-afternoon bridge tournament. Arguing For Music/Arguing for Culture: Essays, by Samuel Lipman (Godine, $35). Samuel Lipman, publisher of The New Criterion, is a passionate lover of music (he is artistic director of the Waterloo Music Festival), a trenchant critic of its performance, and a controversial essayist of considerable power and cogency. In this collection -- a successor to The House of Music -- Lipman writes accessibly and authoritatively about American music, contemporary opera, great artists on record and CD, and the state of the arts today. Also included are an introductory interview with Lipman about his views and his magazine and a concluding epilogue that reexamines the currency of the ideas in Matthew Arnold's Culture and Democracy. Writing into the World: Essays 1973-1987, by Terrence Des Pres (Viking, $22.95). Des Pres, who died in 1987, was a critic who wrote relatively little (only two books before this posthumous collection), but who made a deep impact on his readers by his wide learning, clear journalistic style and, most of all, impassioned earnestness. No mere aesthetician he. Instead, Des Pres built his thought on the most solemn event in our culture, the Holocaust. Repeatedly in this book, he returns to its awful centrality, in reviews of movies like Ophuls' "The Memory of Justice," in an essay on Elie Wiesel, and reflections on the function of "Holocaust laughter." Surrounding these pieces are equally serious reflections on criticism today, Bruno Bettelheim, the novels of John Irving, the death of John Gardner, Bertolt Brecht and much else. Sir Walter Scott, by Edward Wagenknecht (Ungar/Continuum, $18.95). Wilkie Collins called him "the Prince, the King, the Emperor, the God Almighty of novelists," but in this country Sir Walter Scott's reputation has never recovered from the handiwork of Mark Twain, who peppered Huckleberry Finn with references to the historical novelist's baleful influence on southern culture. Yet Trollope's oeuvre is getting its second wind, and perhaps the time has come for a Scott-ish revival. In this brief study the venerable critic Edward Wagenknecht, who has just turned 90, recommends the Waverly novels -- particularly Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian -- as better representatives of Scott's considerable narrative gifts than the ones usually foisted on students (Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward). In any event, it is hard not to be attracted to a writer "who disliked book reviewing because he could not bear to give authors pain." Sir Richard Burton's Travels in Arabia and Africa: Four Lectures from a Huntington Library Manuscript, edited by John Hayman (The Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. 91108; $24.95). Lecturing was a favorite Victorian vehicle for self-promotion, and the great explorer Sir Richard Burton was a master publicist. As the editor points out, in tune with the conventions of the occasion these versions of Burton's exploits sound a good deal more modest than the sometimes overheated accounts of the same events in his books (for example, penetrating the shrine at Mecca even though his infidel status made him persona non grata there). The four lectures derive from the notebook in which Burton wrote them out in longhand and were delivered in Brazil when he was English consul there in 1866. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe, by Dennis Overbye (Harper/Collins, $25). If one's image of an astrophysicist runs toward eccentrics, the picture section of this book offers ample corroboration. An expert on helium is delivering a lecture dressed in slacks, T-shirt, and a helmet topped by a foot-long plume. Others are photographed playing the guitar and hoisting beer steins, as if unriddling the origin of the universe were a gemutlich pastime rather than the intellectual challenge of challenges. The author, a Time magazine essayist, covers the last four decades of scientific cosmology, from the early work of Allan Sandage, who devised a method for measuring the age of the universe, to the latest speculations of Stephen Hawking, whose ability to think brilliantly in the face of the progressive disease from which he is suffering remains a wonder almost as profound as the nature of the universe itself. The Search for the Pink-Headed Duck, by Rory Nugent (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95). The last confirmed sighting of the pink-headed duck took place in 1935, in India. There have been subsequent reports of its continued existence, though, and journalist Rory Nugent decided to look for it in its presumed habitat in Sikkim and India. On the way he stopped at the giant rhododendron forest that is said to provide cover for the Abominable Snowman and fell in with Gurkha guerrillas, who are battling the central Indian government for an independent Gurkhaland. This is travel writing for those who consider the likes of Bali and Fiji hopelessly middle-class.