This might well be sub-titled An Adventure in People, for to most readers few of the names here will have much more than a faintly familiar ring. One may know that Ernest Fenollosa not only brought an appreciation of Japanese art to America but really taught Japan to respect her own art. But his life abounded in many-faceted interests, and a colorful personality comes through these pages. Fanny West -- back in the first half of the 19th century-was a rebel and liberal far beyond her time, a scandal to the conservatives, a contradiction in her arrogance as opposed to her humanitarianism. I think John Lloyd Stephens, ""the American Traveller"", was the most exciting discovery of all. Born in New Jersey in 1805, his insatiable curiosity took him to far reaches --Greece, Russia, the Holy Land, Egypt -- and then, in company with the artist Catherwood, to Mexico, Central and South America. They visited some forty ancient Mayan cities- opening the way to searches of antiquities. George Catlin is probably the most familiar name; nobody else knew and loved and portrayed the American Indian as he did through a long eventful life. Another intrepid explorer was Charles Wilkes, whose aim was the advance of science, and who extended the feelers of the U.S. Navy to the islands of Polynesia and the wastelands of the Antarctic more than a century ago. Leland, Prendergast and Bourne march forward to our own times but again there is always that sense of making new acquaintances and widening horizons. Van Wyck Brooks has made again signal contribution.