Five profiles--from The New Yorker and elsewhere--of individuals who have attained excellence in unusual professions, written over the last 25 years. In choice of subject and clarity of technical detail, Bliven's work resembles John McPhee's, although without his added gift of lapidary styling. A swift but memorable glimpse of exceptional picture-book writer Margaret Wise Brown, then in her early thirties, reveals a serf-possessed woman of solitary habits and disarming frankness (""Well, I don't especially like children""). Repeated observations of longtime tennis-table champion Dick Miles deftly twine with an early freelancing coup--Bliven sold the story, legitimately, to Life, Look, Sports Illustrated, and The New Yorker. George Scheer is the consummate book salesman with a rare appreciation of his merchandise whom Bliven trailed through the South several years ago. The other two pieces reflect an ongoing interest in musical sound--an admiring view of William Hupfer, Steinway's grand ""Piano Man,"" and an extended account of the recent transformation of Lincoln Center's concert hall from dissonant echo chamber to acoustic showplace, under the intent supervision of consultant Cyril Harris. In the last, Bliven smoothly converts technical issues into nonspecialist terms: one comes to grasp the quality of Harris' planning when even the possibility of laps holding winter coats (sound absorbers) are included in the calculations. Too offbeat and refined, perhaps, for broad consumption, but for those who value polished efforts, Bliven demonstrates an excellence of his own.