NONFICTION

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. , edited by James Melvin Washington (HarperCollins, $16.95). This collection includes, of course, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered during the 1963 March on Washington. It also includes excerpts from King's books, other speeches and sermons, including his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and essays, including his "Letter from Birmingham City Jail." There are also four interviews, as well as the transcript of King's response to questions at the 68th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly just 10 days before he was assassinated.

Staking a Claim: Jake Simmons and the Making of an African-American Oil Dynasty , by Jonathan D. Greenburg (NAL Plume, $9.95). Grandson of one of the few black chiefs to head a Native American tribe, Jake Simmmons Jr. got his start brokering oil leases for black farmers who did not trust the oil companies. By the time of his death in 1981, Simmons had earned a fortune negotiating oil deals in Africa. In this biography cum family saga, Jonathan D. Greenburg tells the story of the Simmons family, from Cow Tom, "who carved a unique niche for black Indians on the American frontier," to Jake Simmons, civil rights activist and oilman.

Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York , by Thomas Kessner (Penguin, $12.95). La Guardia was the mayor of New York City during the Depression and World War II. He restored honesty to the municipal civil service, brought in brains instead of machine hacks to run the city and embarked on an enormous program of public works -- schools, hospitals, parks, public housing, tunnels and bridges -- that would be the envy of any administrator today. More than that, he chased fire trucks and read the funnies over the radio. This biography brilliantly recaptures one of the great figures of modern liberalism.

Brothers Against the Raj: A Biography of Indian Nationalists Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose , by Leonard A. Gordon (Columbia University Press, $12.95). Everyone has heard of Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress Party in the struggle for Indian independence, but on such a vast human stage there were many other actors. Two were the Bose brothers, especially the younger and charismatic Subhas, who called for India's independence by, if necessary, violent means. In pursuit of that goal, he played footsie with the Axis powers during World War II, much to the outrage of the British. Here is the fascinating story of two Bengali and Indian patriots.

Talking with Robert Penn Warren , edited by Floyd C. Watkins, John T. Hiers and Mary Louise Weaks (University of Georgia, $19.95; hardcover $45). If 20th-century American literature has a Renaissance man of letters, surely it is Robert Penn Warren. Author of that great novel, All the King's Men; our first poet-laureate; winner of the Pulitzer Prize in both genres; important New Critic; renowned teacher at Yale -- such are a few highlights of Warren's career. This collection of interviews offers anecdotes, facts and opinions about the writer's oeuvre and the man's life. For instance, Warren had been accepted at Annapolis when he injured an eye and had to forgo a naval career -- to the vast benefit of American literature.

Son of the Morning Star , by Evan S. Connell (Harper Perennial, $10.95). Evan S. Connell is on a literary roll. He has finished his long-awaited book on alchemy. His novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge have been rereleased in conjunction with the new Ivory-Merchant film (which combines both names in its title) starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Son of the Morning Star, his retelling of Custer's last stand, is a quirky, opinionated book that scrambles time as thoroughly as a Faulkner narrative and parlays close examination of source material into a narrative of great power.

MYSTERIES

The Scarred Man , by Keith Peterson (Bantam, $4.50). The household in which reporter Michael North is a guest for the holidays succumbs to the time-honored Christmas Eve tradition of telling ghost stories. North's contribution -- about a scarred man who spooks a madman into killing total strangers -- unnerves Susannah, the host's daughter, because a variation of the same story has been haunting her dreams. The real identity of the scarred man and the nature of the hidden relationship between Michael and Susannah undergirds this cunningly plotted novel.

Black Cherry Blues , by James Lee Burke (Avon, $4.95). The third in James Lee Burke's series of Dave Robicheaux mystery novels, Black Cherry Blues begins after Robicheaux's wife is murdered by hired killers. Still grieving, Robicheaux encounters an old friend, Dixie Lee Pugh, once a musician and now an alcoholic has-been after serving time for drunk driving. The DEA is shadowing Pugh because of his friendship with a mobster, and then Robicheaux finds himself involved, first when he is arrested for the murder of a man who put Pugh in the hospital, and then when he travels to Montana to try to save Pugh's life and his own.

Sweet La-La Land , by Robert Campbell (Pocket Books, $4.95). When his long-lost love returns unexpectedly to his life, Whistler, the private-eye hero of this novel, can't help consenting to do her a favor. It seems that Faye regrets having given up her son, and so Whistler travels to Kentucky to try to track down the boy. The trail leads back to Los Angeles' mean streets, where runaways sell themselves to survive, and movie stars dabble in drugs and witchcraft.