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Notable books of 1980 -- a checklist; NATURE/SCIENCE

ATOMIC ENERGY: A NEW START, by David E. Lilienthal. New York: Harper & Row. proponent of using nuclear fission to generate electricity has an important message: nuclear power isn't as safe as it should be, and, despite the enormous resistance and costs, we must develop a new type of reactor -- quickly.

THE AUDUBON SOCIETY ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS, by John K. Terres. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $49.95. A massive, yet readable compendium representing 20 years' work, this is the first one-volume book of its kind, dazzling in its beauty and resplendently informative.

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COSMOS, by Carl Sagen. New York: Random House. $19.95. Combining a personal statement -- one man's apologia for his faith called science -- with a history that traces today's knowledge and scientific method to their roots, this book seems more forceful, cogent, and appealing than the TV series with which it coincides.

KEITH COUNTY JOURNAL, by John Janovy Jr. New York: St. Martin's Press. $8. 95 hardcover, $3.95 paperback. This cell biologist -- who is also an admirer of beauty, a professor who teaches students to love, and a seer who poses some intriguing questions about the future of planet Earth -- here gives readers compass and trail guide and sends them out into the wild to appreciate nature.

THE UNITY OF NATURE, Carl Friedich von Weizsacker. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $20. An alumnus of Germany's World War II atom bomb project, philosopher/physicist Weizsacker here offers formidable, engaging, and monumentally learned essays charting an approach to the problem Einstein confronted: a theory that would explain the connection between electromagnetism and gravity, and hence the unity of natural forces.

THE WOOING OF EARTH, by Rene Dubos. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. $8. 95. The eminent microbiologist and Pulitzer winner celebrates mankind's most successful interplays with nature from ancient China and Greece to 20th-century Europe, and tries to foster a sense of stewardship for the natural world that still leaves room for changing and i mproving it.