NONFICTION

Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy , by Porter McKeever (Morrow Quill, $14.95). Though he is remembered today primarily as a twice unsuccessful candidate for the presidency, Adlai Stevenson also symbolizes a kind of intellectual highmindedness that has been notably absent from American politics. This biography, by a friend and former 1952 Stevenson campaign official, claims that Stevenson "set much of the agenda for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations." While perhaps an overstatement, Stevenson expressed doubts about the Cold War, warned that the U.S. could not afford to court Europe at the expense of the Third World, and that Americans were entering an era of limits. As portrayed here, Stevenson is both visionary and melancholic, a man of great personal and intellectual integrity who continually sought meaning for his life.

Stitched From the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Ante-Bellum South , by Gladys-Marie Fry (Dutton, $18.95). A tradition that continues today, black quiltmaking began when female slaves were employed as weavers and seamstresses on Southern plantations. Though they were expected to provide clothing and other items for plantation use, some slave seamstresses were able to make items for their own use on their own time. This book, researched by a professor of folklore at the University of Maryland, began as a research project designed to lead to an exhibition at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York. As such it includes many illustrations of surviving slave-made quilts, some utilitarian and others wonderful examples of the seamstress's art. Gladys-Marie Fry documents how these quiltmakers includes biblical scenes, scenes of contemporary events and symbols and colors that can be traced back to traditional African religions.

Naming Names , by Victor S. Navasky (Penguin, $9.95). The author, who edits the magazine the Nation, has written what he calls "less a history than a moral detective story," the puzzle being the decision of so many denizens of Hollywood to betray their colleagues to the House Committee on un-American Activities in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In an afterword, Navasky notes a number of connections between the story he has to tell and the career of Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild during the period. Besides secretly informing on his peers, Reagan helped a young actress who was vexed by her name's appearance on left-wing mailing lists. It turned out that Nancy Davis was being confused with another actress of that name, and after clearing her of leftist sympathies Reagan married her.

That Fine Italian Hand , by Paul Hoffmann (Owl, $9.95). The author is one of those American reporters who go overseas on assignment, fall in love with the country they are covering, and stay as a free-lancer. By his own description he has become quite at home there: "I need a strong espresso in the morning and a few times later in the day; I eat plenty of pasta, vegetables, and fruit; and I prefer olive oil to any other fat . . . I also drink wine with my meals and am not averse to a brief siesta." The Italians, he concludes, can cope with the chaos that pervades their daily affairs and the necessity to make "arrangements" -- the intricate system of bribes and favors by which people circumvent the rules -- by remembering that "there is no place on earth where one can live so well."

Penfriends from Porlock: Essays and Reviews 1977-1986 , by A.N. Wilson (Fawcett Columbine, $12.95). In an era of what's called critical discourse, A.N. Wilson is a positive anachronism: He writes with huge gusto about the books and writers that appeal to him, and he aims to entertain. The result is some first-class literary journalism, built on lightly carried scholarship, marked by an air of dash and easy elegance. In this collection Wilson treats such subjects as Venice, Tennyson, contemporary English novelists, the poet Philip Larkin, British satire, and such eccentric geniuses as G.K. Chesterton and Montague Summers. Ideal bedside reading.

MYSTERIES

Smugglers Notch , by Joseph Koenig (Ballantine, $3.95). This mystery by the author of Little Odessa (also available from Ballantine) is set in a quiet Vermont county, where sheriff's lieutenant Lawrence St. Germain is marking time, waiting to become sheriff. When the daughter of the state's attorney is abducted and then killed, St. Germain identifies the killer and goes after him. But then things go wrong and another sheriff's officer is killed and St. Germain, too proud to live with his responsibility, resigns from the department to confront the killer alone.

Rainy North Woods , by Vince Kohler (Pocket Books, $3.95). Working as a reporter for a small Oregon newspaper, Eldon Larkin is a stranger in a strange land, afraid of "going native." In a land where it rains most of the winter and spring, a land where the prime industry is logging and local entertainment is going to bars, Larkin drives a Citroen and reads Celine in French. Overweight and oversexed, he lusts after a new photographer at the newspaper. Because this is a mystery, there are plenty of bodies -- a Vietnamese circus worker crushed by an elephant, a dope smuggler killed by his partner -- but the zany cast of characters also includes Big Foot, aliens from outer space, boat people and a silent film star who wants to be alone.