A densely detailed biography of Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin (1739-91), who served as Catherine the Great's military strategist, diplomat, literary adviser, art collector and lover, outlasting other favorites in her glamorous yet crude court. Volume Three: Fighting for Freedom, 1937-1946. It's cheap now, and many people get too much, but that wasn't always so; Kurlansky gives the economic, political, chemical and industrial story of a substance once so valuable that ''salary'' is named for it. (Knopf, $24.) GRACEFULLY INSANE: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital. By Richard Flanagan. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) (Norton, $24.95.) By Nalo Hopkinson. Notes from the final decade of a scintillating British journalist (chief theater critic of The New Yorker, 1958-60) who loved show business and every other form of exhibitionism but subsided into disappointment, illness and melancholy before his death at 53 in 1980.
(Metropolitan/ Holt, $23.) The cinematic action of this nerve-tingling debut thriller sweeps from the gritty streets of Glasgow to the treacherous wilderness of the Scottish Highlands, hanging on the fate of a 9-year-old boy who knows too much and the heroic woman determined to save him from the clutches of an international crime boss.
(New Press, $24.95.) By Lorna Sage. Hiaasen's caper about murder in the music business skewers both corporate media operations and the world of pop stardom. (Free Press, $25.) HELL TO PAY. By Sebag Montefiore. A brilliant concoction by an outstanding Israeli novelist whose hero, a 33-year-old married man, persuades a woman to undertake a brutally honest love affair to be carried on, in a political and physical vacuum, entirely by correspondence. The diabolical, if artfully staged, homicide of three friends who costumed themselves as 18th-century bacchants and went into the woods on Midsummer's Eve to party convinces Mankell's philosophical Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander, that all of civilization is ''coming apart at the seams.''. (Norton, $29.95.) A true-life account of an illegal Mexican immigrant who died on a New York construction site, and of the dreary lives and modest ambitions common to Mexicans in this country. DON'T LET'S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT: An African Childhood. LAKE EFFECT. , Feinstein cohabited with actress Lana Wood for most of the 1980s, and was in attendance at the funeral of her sister Natalie. A MULTITUDE OF SINS: Stories. McGuane's first novel in 10 years shows, as his work in the 1970's did, people responding with comically awful behavior to a hostile but also zany universe; there is a plot, concerning some kind of infernal legacy, but the digressions the author can never resist are, fortunately, deft and funny no matter how irrelevant or inconsequential. (Little, Brown, $25.95.) By Robert Barnard. In the winter of his 70-year career, Milosz appears to be locked in insoluble argument with himself: where he once credited poetry with the power to rescue mankind from the void, he now demurs, maintaining that language is inadequate to the task of capturing verity.
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