Edith Wharton, by R. W. B. Lewis (Fromm: $12.95). Somerset Maugham dismissed her as an admirable creature, but not his cup of tea. But Henry James liked her immensely. Edith Wharton (1862-1937), author of ``Ethan Frome,'' ``The House of Mirth,'' and ``The Age of Innocence,'' continues to occupy an important place in American literature. R. W. B. Lewis's splendidly researched, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography (first published in 1975) does full justice to this aristocratic, reserved, yet prof oundly sensual woman. Lewis's biography uncovers unexpectedly erotic material both in her private life and in her previously unpublished writings. ``Properly discreet and evasive in her lifetime,'' he observes, ``she took determined steps to see that later generations would know her as she truly was.'' Thanks to Lewis, her wish has been brilliantly realized. The Maximus Poems, by Charles Olson. Edited by George F. Butterick (University of California Press: $17.95). Charles Olson's ever-widening circle of admirers will welcome this handsomely produced, authoritative edition of the poet's much-acclaimed three-volume magnum opus. Taking the town of Gloucester, Mass., as his microcosmic centerpoint, Olson's grand effort stretches out to embrace -- or perhaps even emulate -- the physical, historical, and cultural universe. To those of us who may admire the ambition but not the execution, ``The Maximus Poems'' may look like ever-more fragmentary patterns inscribed on the surface of an ever-expanding balloon.
Rebel for Rights: Abigail Scott Duniway, by Ruth Barnes Moynihan (Yale University Press: $9.95). Born in a log cabin, Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915) was among the first generation of American suffragists. Self-educated, hardworking, and vehemently outspoken, she became increasingly unacceptable to more genteel Eastern suffragists for reasons of both style and substance. At a time when the Women's Christian Temperance Union was becoming increasingly influential, Duniway took a firm stand a gainst Prohibition, a cause that found its chief support among women. Moynihan's life of Duniway is incisive and engaging.
Choice and Consequence: Perspectives of an Errant Economist, by Thomas C. Schelling (Harvard University Press: $8.95). Schelling, a professor of political economy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote these essays over a 15-year period. They reflect an astonishing array of interests, from organized crime to nuclear terrorism, from drug abuse to game theory. A self-proclaimed ``errant economist,'' Schelling enjoys ``wandering'' into other disciplines. Questions of politics,
psychology, and morality interest him far more than purely economic ones. This collection of lucid, eminently readable essays exemplifies interdisciplinary thinking at its most inviting.
Disturbances in the Field, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (Bantom/Windstone: $6.95). As a serious ``realistic'' novelist, Lynne Sharon Schwartz has something of an interdisciplinary outlook herself. In this, her third novel, she deals with the divergent but not necessarily dissonant fields of music and philosophy. Life itself is the unifying field in this story of a woman and her college friends as they pass from youth toward the ``middle of the journey,'' confronting the joys and sorrows of marri age, love, friendship, parenthood, loss, and death. Schwartz's commitment to writing about ideas as well as characters is truly laudable. But her fiction has a rather forced quality, like those cereals that are so fortified with extra vitamins that they no longer taste of the natural grain.
The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design, by Anne Whiston Spirn (Basic Books: $11.95). Cities, though distinct from nature, are part of nature. Paradoxically, intelligent human planning is needed to design urban environments in harmony with nature. Spirn, a landscape architect at Harvard, blends highly detailed discussion of specific problems (energy conservation, air and water pollution) with a broader vision of cities as they can and should be. The know-how is not lacking, she rem inds us -- only the will.