The cloud of words on nuclear war has made all but the most driven partisans weary and cynical. If the case for paying attention can be made at all, it is by the inventive likes of Martin Amis. The droll novelist and acid Brit, writing in the October Esquire, makes even his hopelessness oddly affecting.

The conceit here is that Amis visits Washington -- "Nuke City" -- as a self-conscious stranger in a strange land. With the approach of a literary critic or cultural linguist, Amis analyzes the way language is deployed in the service of the unutterable. "With famous prodigality and greed, nuclear weapons squander resources, gobble money, hog know-how," he writes. "But what of the intellectual resources, what of the thought, the acuity, and concentration they hourly consume?"

In this city, that's a bellyfull. In his encounters with the expert and the concerned, Amis is beset by ironic perceptions, which he likes to render in the second person. Reflecting on one exchange with an antinuke activist, he writes: "You talk about government policies as if you were talking about your children, their pointless delinquencies, their cute inanities." After meeting a pronuke person, he thinks to himself, "you are not in the presence of active thought; you just sit there and watch the laborious bolstering of stock response, the steady fattening of prejudice."

From time to time, Amis seems to glimpse the futility of his exercise. Referring to a Pentagon SDI expert he meets, Amis concludes, "He is about Can Do. I am about Don't Do." So it is with some exasperation that he ends by handing the problem off, like a hot potato.

"We must fix our kids," he writes, "so that they will have nothing to do with anyone who has anything to do with anyone who has anything to do with nuclear weapons."

The Fallible Genius He was, the article says, "the quintessentially American philosopher." He was known for "his ability to puncture bloated abstractions, his pragmatic stress on the need to test the 'cash value' of ideas in actual experience." He looked for "a scientific foundation for attributing causality to conscious human decisions rather than to the press of heredity or environment, or the bestial automatism of biological drives." Yet he "expressed his overarching vision in the language of mystical religion."

Who was this man? Shame on you for not knowing. The answer -- William James -- is delivered in a nimble sketch by historian Jackson Lears in the fall number of The Wilson Quarterly. Lears takes as his operating premise that "fallible mortals are always more interesting -- and often more inspiring -- than monuments of aging intellect." Accordingly, he never forgets that the compelling mind of James was attached to a sometimes sickly body; the struggles of the latter, in fact, had much to do with the triumphs of the former.

Families in the News The public trials and private tribulations of the Bingham family in Louisville have drawn attention to other newspaper dynasties, and the perils of generational succession. Georgia Trend (September) has a case in point: 39-year-old James Cox Kennedy, born with a pica stick in his mouth, is trying to restore the Atlanta newspapers to glory.

Cox family holdings include newspapers in 16 cities, 14 radio and TV stations and a cable network, and they're enormously profitable. But the flagship Atlanta papers, the Journal and the Constitution, have been moribund for most of the last two decades, ceding territory to other newspapers and treading editorial water. As Stuart Mieher reports, Kennedy has made it his mission to turn the papers around, most visibly by hiring Bill Kovach from The New York Times to edit them.

The Cox family changes are as nothing compared to those of the Morrises, another Georgia media clan. Allen Myerson, in the same issue, describes how one Billy Morris sneakily cut his brother Charles out of the family newspaper business, and how Charles has bounced back and forged a spanking new newspaper conglomerate of his own, all but sticking his tongue out at his older sibling. The wonder is they still speak to each other.

Georgia Trend is one of three excellent business magazines -- the others are in Florida and Arizona -- published by the (St. Petersburg) Times Publishing Co., known locally for its ownership of Congressional Quarterly. The editing is consistently solid and the editorial posture uncommonly bold for a business-oriented publication. The September Arizona Trend, for instance, endorses the recall of the state's notorious governor, Evan Mecham.

Table of Contents The biggest magazine ever published is Vogue's 828-page September issue. Most of the pages, of course, are advertising, which is why people buy the magazine. For their money, the advertisers are spared the task of generating conclusions about the fashions they depict. Vogue's editors are not so lucky. When they say that American fashion "strikes a certain balance between simplicity that's never boring and design that's never excessive," surely they cannot be referring to the contents of this magazine.