Perhaps the eight pieces collected here represent to Lemann, in retrospect, ""the different forms ambition can take."" Perhaps, now that he too has gravitated Northeast-ward (from the Texas Monthly to the Washington Post), ambition is indistinguishable, to him, from the ""mobility ethic""--the loss of identity, of community, even (as he writes, embarrassingly, in the last piece) of ""idealism."" But the best of the pieces tell a different, more complex and interesting story, with more positive angles on ""ambition"" rising to the surface. Take 31-year-old Dallas real-estate broker Sherwood Blount's single-minded, day-in-and-day-out pursuit of a sale, ""Sherwood's First Million""; the sale falls through--readers will groan with disappointment--but Sherwood rallies the instant he's asked to give a million dollars, ""like Bunker Hunt,"" to the Campus Crusade for Christ: ""all the hustle of the business day was a sign not of greed, but of faith."" Or take the history of the huge, upstart Texas Medical Center--bankrolled by self-made grandees who wanted Houston to ""win the admiration of the world""--and its prima-donna surgeon/rivals DeBakey and Cooley. A piece on ""The Split"" in a Washington law firm does indeed demonstrate, as Lemann observes, that ambition sometimes gets you nowhere--but its fascination, as with ""The Medical Center,"" is equally as a study of institutional dynamics. (The two also close in on the practice of medicine and the practice of law.) Another pair, ""Bil Oil"" and ""Little Oil,"" counterpose the fate of a good company man who didn't make ""the fast track"" and the satisfactions (uncertainties included) of a loner. Least successful re the ambiguities of achievement is ""The Joy of Doing,"" a paean to Off-Off Broadway. But the Texas pieces (four of them reprinted from the Texas Monthly) far more tellingly and pertinently dilate on ambitions than Joseph Epstein's recent, vapid Ambition, which hauls out the likes of Ben Franklin. And Lemann, just reporting, sometimes makes New Yorker fact-writer class.