The panorama of history passes through one's mind, highlighted by its most gifted interpretors, as this memorable collection of Orville Prescott's proves how great has been the contribution to the enrichment of historical understanding, by the best of writers. His goal- to prove how good historical fiction can be, how shoddy much of what passes for historical fiction- is evidenced again and again. The names of the writers he has chosen make a memorable roll call:- Mary Renault, Thornton Wilder, Robert Graves, Alfred Duggan, Hope Muntz, Helen Waddell, Jay Williams, Zoe Oldenbourg, Sigrid Undset, Edith Simon, Maurice Samuel, H.F.M. Prescott, Margaret Irwin, Kenneth Roberts, Ernest Gebler- these among contemporary writers have set a standard only too rarely attained. One hopes that Mr. Prescott's reluctance to mention the books from which the extracts are taken will only spur curiosity to the point of seeking out the page of acknowledgements. His reason? Perhaps that he has sought to use extracts that are perfectly rounded in themselves... His choices from the past are certain to arouse healthy argument, differences of opinion, for many of us learned much of our history and sparked eagerness for more from writers he bypasses- Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas and Leo Tolstoy to mention three. Perhaps again he found it difficult to find gems of unity in writing too often diffuse. This has been a long term search and dedication on the part of the N.Y. Times daily book critic. His range goes from ancient Greece to the Battle of Chickamanga his penetration deeper.