A Writer's Britain: Landscapes in Literature, by Margaret Drabble, photographed by Jorge Lewinski. New York: Thames & Hudson, dist. by Norton. 281 pp. Illustrated. $15.95. From the ``sacred places'' of Stonehenge, Holywell, and the Malvern Hills, where William Langland's ``Piers Plowman'' was granted his dreamlike vision, to the windswept moors of the Bront"es' Yorkshire; from the sublimely beautiful lakes and mountains of Wordsworth's Cumbria to the yellow, melancholy Lincolnshire flatlands that dominate the poems of Tennyson; from picturesque ruins and flourishing country estates to the energy - and desolation - of the industrial landscape, this splendid book by the gifted novelist and critic Margaret Drabble is a balanced blend of word and picture. The pictures are wonderfully various. The text is fully alive to the visual and the visionary, garlanded with well-chosen quotations from the great writers whose words still haunt the landscapes. And who but Drabble could show us, in a single book, the literary legacy of the industrial midlands, the role of crystalline Welsh air in inspiring the religious nature poems of Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne, and the role of Milton as ``one of the earliest poets to strike the Gothic note'' in appreciating the emotions engendered by the somber beauty of towers and ruins? Does Aid Work? Report to an Intergovernmental Task Force, by Robert Casson & Associates. New York and Oxford: the Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 381 pp. $15.95.

You can't solve a problem by throwing money at it is a favorite platitude of many who have not thought of applying this formula to contra aid or Bradley fighting vehicles. Poverty, of course, is the problem they have in mind. But the real problem remains how to spend money - rather than ``throw'' it - in a way that will be most effective. This study, commissioned by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, concludes that foreign aid can indeed ``work'' when intelligently administered. The authors compare the relative success of aid in southern Asia with the relative failure they find thus far in Africa, discuss the importance of women as a recipient group, compare bilateral and multilateral programs, and, in general, present a comprehensive overview of the subject. Elizabeth Bowen, by Patricia Craig. New York: Viking Penguin. 143 pp. Illustrated. $4.95.

A handsome, poised, and very formidable daughter of the Protestant ascendancy, Irish-born Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) grew up to write stories and novels that combined sensitivity and astringency. Her insightful, tough-minded portrayal of youthful innocence in ``The Death of the Heart'' (1938) and her powerful evocation of wartime London in ``The Heat of the Day'' (1949) are but two highlights of her impressive literary career. She also led an active social life that included such friends as Virginia Woolf, Rosamond Lehmann, Cyril Connolly, Maurice Bowra, William Plomer, Sean O'Faolain, and Isaiah Berlin. During World War II, she traveled between London - where she was an air-raid warden - and Ireland, from where she reported back to the Ministry of Information on Irish attitudes toward the war. Patricia Craig's brief biography for the Lives of Modern Women series draws on Victoria Glendinning's longer work as well as other sources. Craig writes with flair and pungency, but shies away from answering some of the provocative questions she raises. This book should, however, whet the appetites of readers intrigued by Bowen's distinctive prose and by the unusual woman behind it. Piaf, by Margaret Crosland. New York: Fromm. 240 pp. Illustrated. $8.95.

The marvelously self-dramatizing quality that made Edith Piaf one of the most expressive singers of her time is also evident in the story of the tiny (4 ft. 10 in.) woman with the astonishingly powerful voice, born Edith Gassion in Paris in 1913, nicknamed ``Piaf'' (the sparrow), who began by singing in the streets and went on to become a legend in France and beyond. Readers may be fascinated, saddened, or appalled by the wild ups and downs of a life that included alcohol and drug addiction and many turbulent love affairs. But the biographer has to cope with the theatricality that makes such a life seem flatter, less fully human, than the presence conjured up by Piaf's voice. Crosland has made an admirable attempt to separate fact from mythology, but cannot do much more to rescue the story from its inherent sensationalism, which verges at times on the ridiculous. Only Piaf's art could transform the histrionic elements of her personality into true drama. This biography, the first written in English, shows a fine appreciation of Piaf's artistry and includes, along with a bibliography, a filmography, discography, and checklist of Piaf's songs.

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