Lost Boston, by Jane Holtz Kay. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 304 pp. $12 .95.
This sprightly narrative traces Boston's construction from its first twisted lanes to the streetcar suburbs of 1930.
Kay's text breaks no scholastic ground not covered in such classics as Whitehill's ''Boston: A Topographical History,'' but her prose has a pictorial quality that allows her to convey a building's social context to average readers.
The book's strongest feature is its photos. Crowded at the end of each chapter, they show today's landmarks flanked by unfamiliar neighbors, graphically documenting the gracelessness of much urban growth. One example is a beautiful row of Bulfinch houses that has been replaced by five shoe stores and a pizza parlor.''Lost Boston's'' theme is simple: Cities may be built of stone and steel, but they grow and change like living things. The growth is powered by the energy of sheer economics. To keep our cities livable, we must learn to channel their change in positive directions.