Under the heading, ""Topics of The Times,"" perusers of the New York Times editorial page have for a century been treated to that rare specimen: the brief, pungent, well-constructed journalistic essay. Here is a collection of over 100 such, drawn primarily from the last two years, and featuring the musings of such varied minds as Marya Mannes, Robert Kennedy, Archibald MacLeish, Frederic Morton, Alan Paton, D. W. Brogan, and Brooks Atkinson. The regular editor of the column, Herbert Mitgang, and his predecessors of the last century are also represented. Some of the authors aim to plaire et distraire; others to provoke or persuade. There is a wonderful range of styles and subjects, from Marianne Moore's felicitously incoherent note on fashion to J. William Fulbright's coolly angry critique of America's imperial mission. New York nostalgia is served up in a humorous and ironic vein by Mr. Mitgang, who drew together these writings. A pleasure to read, this will be welcome bedside literature for the intelligentsia.