NONFICTION

Great Inventions, Good Intentions , by Eric Baker and Jane Martin (Chronicle Books, $16.95). "Invent, invent!" Modern Mechanix magazine exhorted its readers in 1935. And invent they and many other Americans did, as evidenced by the drawings for vehicles, buildings, toys and numerous other articles collected here from U.S. Patent Office files from 1930-45. A great many of these designs were never produced, but all have a certain charm -- consider, for example, the kiddie car designed to look like a World War II Mustang, the variety of ornamented double-and triple-cup wafer ice cream cones and, pictured above, the designs for a coffee shop, barbecue stand and corn on the cob booth. (Chronicle Books has also published Character Trademarks, by John Mendenhall ($14.95), a collection of more than 800 product and service logos from 1877 to the present.)

Studies in Words , by C.S. Lewis (Cambridge Canto, $9.95). A strange man and formidable scholar, C.S. Lewis could write with easy-going brilliance about any number of subjects: courtly love poems, Christian dogma, Renaissance literary history, the magical kingdom of Narnia, the problem of pain, the medieval world-view. Studies in Words shows Lewis analyzing the meaning, roots and implications of some of the most powerful words in western culture: nature, wit, free, sense, sad, simple, conscience and conscious, world, life. Reading these essays is like listening to a superb lecture, replete with anecdotes and arcane learning, but popular in the best sense, for Lewis cared passionately about making knowledge appealing to ordinary people.

Myth, Literature and the African World , by Wole Soyinka (Cambridge Canto, $7.95). One of a new trade paperback series from Cambridge University Press, this is an exercise in what Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian author Wole Soyinka calls "self-apprehension." Self-apprehension, he writes, is "the apprehension of a culture whose reference points are taken from within the culture itself." In these essays, then, Soyinka looks at how myth, ritual and literature are intertwined in the African world. He considers ritual archetypes as personified by hero-gods, as well as the African world-view and the function of drama within that view of the world.

Isara: A Voyage Around "Essay" , by Wole Soyinka (Vintage, $9.95). Though not really a sequel, this is a kind of companion piece to Wole Soyinka's Ake: The Years of Childhood. In a note, Soyinka explains that this book began when he opened a tin box that had belonged to his father, who Soyinka calls "Essay." In it were letters, journals and other papers that related to Soyinka's father's career as a teacher in colonial Nigeria. As a "reconstruction" of a period in his father's life, then, this is not strictly biography or history, but "a tribute to Essay and his friends and times."

Wartime Writings, 1939-1944 , by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Harvest, $8.95). Saint-Exupery was the sort of chap Hemingway wanted to be -- a writing man of action. The author of the novels Night Flight and The Little Prince and the travel-memoir Wind, Sand and Stars, he flew eight successful missions over occupied France but did not return from the ninth. These writings encompass not only some of his day-to-day exploits but also his reflections on the meaning of World War II: "Respect for humanity . . . That is the touchstone! When the Nazi respects only what resembles him, he merely respects himself. He rejects the creative contradictions, ruins any hope of advance, and for the next thousand years replaces man with the robot in the anthill."

The Dark Matter: Contemporary Science's Quest for the Mass Hidden in Our Universe , by Wallace Turner and Karen Tucker (Quill, $8.95). Not since "the missing link" have scientists been so concerned about an absent commodity. What's missing now is not some intermediate creature that would ice the case for evolution but "as much as 90 percent of the matter in the universe." In our galaxy alone, the authors maintain, "most astronomers now accept the conclusion that roughly half the matter . . . is in some dark, undetected form." This is a lucid, cleverly illustrated account of where the cosmological detectives are looking.

The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society , by Judith Stein (Louisiana State University Press, $9.95). Revered as a hero by some, Marcus Garvey was derided as a charlatan by others. Born in Jamaica in 1887, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association there and then emigrated to the United States, where the UNIA gained thousands of members. The association founded a steamship line, sent missions to Africa in the hope of repatriating black Americans, sponsored conventions and helped foster interest in black history and culture. But Garvey was convicted of mail fraud in 1922 and, after his sentence was commuted, deported in 1927. This is an examination of Garvey's life and ideas, within the structures of race and class that existed during his time.