NONFICTION

Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the Archives of the United States -- Series I, Volume III: The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South , edited by Ira Berlin, Thavolia Glymph et al. (Cambridge University Press, $54.50). One of the great monuments of contemporary Civil War scholarship, the series of which this volume is a part collects and prints government records that illustrate the struggles of the newly emancipated slaves to win a share of America's riches. Previous volumes covered the experience of freedmen in the Union army and the legal destruction of slavery. This volume uses primary sources and essays to chronicle the experiences of the freedmen as military laborers, residents of federally sponsored "contraband" camps, wage earners on plantations and in towns and, in all too few instances, as independendent farmers and self-employed workers.

Double Jeopardy: Women Who Kill in Victorian Fiction , by Virginia B. Morris (University of Kentucky, $20). Some of the most vivid characters in Victorian fiction are female murderers: the steely Madame DeFarge in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, the devious Lucy Audley in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, the cunning and manipulative Lydia Gwilt in Wilkie Collins's Armadale. Without quite approving these misdeeds, argues Virginia Morris, a specialist in the nexus between literature and crime who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, their creators tended to sympathize with the motives that lay behind them, such as "to escape from intolerable subservience to a man's will." The effect of these characterizations was to win for women a lurid kind of equality, "for the novelists recognized, as their contemporary social scientists did not, that women who killed might be anomalies but they were not abnormal, degenerate, or more irrational than men."

Amazon: The Flooded Forest , by Michael Goulding (Sterling Publishing, 387 Park Avenue South, New York, N.Y. 10016; $24.95). This companion volume to a BBC series combines a knowledgeable text with a stunning lineup of color photographs. It is fascinating to learn, for example, that the famous Amazon freshwater dolphin likely originated as the Andes mountains rose and cut off marine dolphins from their ancestral home in the sea -- and to see what evolved from this happenstance in a shot of the creatures breaching in a river channel. One learns, too, that, like everything else about the Amazon, the ecosystem's reactions to devastation tend to be extravagant. One caption explains that giant water lilies do well in deforested areas because the shallower water-table left behind is conducive to their growth; the picture above the legend shows a lily pad of Brobdingnagian proportions.

Timelines , by Paul Dickson (Addison-Wesley, $18.95). Here is one man's summary of what's been going down since 1945. The important events are all there, day-by-day. In September 1961, for example, the news took to the air: The Soviet Union resumed testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, Dag Hammarskjold was killed in a plane crash, and President Kennedy signed a bill making hijacking of planes a federal crime. Even more illuminating, however, are some of the extras, such as the author's capsulation of each year "in words & phrases." 1961 was the year when "Catch-22" leapt to everyone's lips as a tagline for a no-win situation as well as the year when Webster's dictionary gave permission to use like as a conjunction (still forbidden in this newspaper, however, except in direct quotations). Dickson lives in the Washington area.

Return to the Red Planet , by Eric Burgess (Columbia, $34.95). Fifty-odd years ago, the author of this book published his first article, "Mars, Possibilities of Life." Since then he has become one of the world's foremost "Marsologists." The possibilities for life there seem slimmer today than they did before the Viking missions reported their negative but inconclusive findings. Indeed, Burgess concedes that the chances of turning up anything alive on Mars today are poor but believes that a fossil record of past life may exist, waiting to be found by interplanetary explorers. After summarizing what various satellites and missions have ascertained about the planet, he argues that "we are at a time when the only obvious next step in the physical and mental development of the human species is to take a step off this planet" -- i.e., onto Mars. Mars fans taken with this book may also wish to look at Michael Collins' Mission to Mars and John Noble Wilford's Mars Beckons.