New York Times sportswriter Joseph Durso is so conscientious about presenting Madison Square Garden in the context of Manhattan's cultural development, that the Garden almost gets lost in the process. We learn the names of hotels and stores near Madison Square; the details of the Tweed Ring scandals; the problems of establishing the Metropolitan Museum. And in a reference to economics in the 1890s ""making its mark on everybody's life,"" there is a lengthy quote from Bryan's ""Cross of Gold"" speech--delivered in Chicago. Hidden amidst all this is the Garden's history: its galaxy of impresarios (P. T. Barnum, Tex Rickard, Mike Burke, Sonny Werblin); its architectural progression from the original converted railroad depot, to Stanford White's ornate palace (where he was murdered by his paramour's husband), to utilitarian quarters on Eighth Avenue, to the current complex adjoining Penn Station. Plus, of course, major events--especially prizefights (from John L. Sullivan to Muhammad Ali), circuses (with escaping lions and elephants), and new attractions (ice hockey, horse and dog shows); two Democratic conventions (1924 and 1976); and curiosa--like the 1939 Paderewski recital canceled suddenly because of icy fingers. But despite this wealth of colorful characters and events, Durso's digressions and flashbacks often relegate the Garden to the sidelines and make its story hard to follow. A three-ring circus.