The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III: The United States, 1830-1846 , edited by C. Peter Ripley et al. (University of North Carolina Press, $50). The previous volumes in this series documented efforts by blacks to abolish slavery in the British Empire; this is the first volume to examine the black abolitionist movement in the United States. What the editors found was a surprise: "Vigilance committees sprang up in nearly every {northern} black community, and these black-run organizations combated southern slavery and northern prejudice in a very aggressive fashion." These vigilance committees sheltered runaway slaves; fought kidnapping rings that sold free blacks into slavery; and patrolled the wharves of port cities to liberate blacks victimized by slave traders. The publication of the Black Abolitionist papers is supported by grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a federal body that on a very modest budget endows letterpress and microfilm editions of the great documents of American history.

Sam Walton: The Inside Story of America's Richest Man , by Vance H. Trimble (Dutton, $19.95). Time was when the richest American was likely an oilman and richest not just here but everywhere. Those days are gone. Seventy-two year-old Sam Walton, founder of the Wal-Mart discount department-store chain, made his fortune on merchandising, and his estimated $9-billion net worth apparently falls short of world leadership. The most remarkable thing about him is his ordinariness. He lives in a small Arkansas town, drives a Chevy, and has been married to the same woman since 1943.

The Last Radio Baby: A Memoir , by Raymond Andrews (Peachtree, $15.95). For those growing up in rural Georgia in the 1930s and '40s, novelist Raymond Andrews relates in this memoir, radio was something special. It was a link to the outside world and a staple of family entertainment. On the night of the first heavyweight fight between Joe Louis and Billy Conn, Andrews remembers walking a mile or more with his family to an uncle's house to listen to the fight because the batteries on the family radio were dead. This memoir features the same kind of fantastic characters who populate Andrews's novels. Among them is "Old Mrs. Hill," who was born a slave and who, in her nineties, ran around with "a set of fast girls in their sixties."

Himalayan Odyssey: the Perilous Trek to Western Nepal , by Parker Antin with Phyllis Wachob Weiss (Donald I. Fine, $21.95). After earning a PhD in biology, Parker Antin organized a Trans-Himalayan trek. Among the hazards he vividly recounts -- near-starvation, plunges into ice-cold rivers, permitless encounters with border guards -- the most frustrating may have been the periodic interruptions of trails linking remote villages. One episode required the group to negotiate an active rockslide seething roughly 2,000 feet above and the same distance below trail-level. Everyone made a safe dash across, but, still "gasping from the effort," the author "turned to watch a large rock smash and obliterate my footprints just twenty feet behind me."

Exploring Space: Voyages in the Solar System and Beyond , by William E. Burrows (Random House, $24.95). In 1951, when William Burrows first became starstruck, he writes, "I would have been hard pressed to find more than one paragraph on Neptune in any college-level astronomy text." Today Neptune boasts more than one volume of its own. Written by a veteran science journalist, this is the story of the scientists, engineers, and managers whose satellites, shuttles, radio telescopes, computers and other innovations have propelled that 40-year series of quantum leaps in knowledge.