By Alexandra Jacobs
Updated July 26, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Though it’s the product of a Smithsonian Institution exhibition, Yesterday’s Tomorrows far better resembles a series of amusement park rides — or a strange, entrancing dream. Its mission is simple: to illustrate how technology-mad Americans have envisioned their future over the last century, through architectural plans, comic-book characters (including the original Buck Rogers), advertising, and film. What’s amazing is how off-kilter many of these predictions were (to think there was a time when people thought routine commutes to the moon would be practical, useful, or amusing!). Indeed, the book contains more misses than hits: television (which failed to live up to the promise that it would be ”the greatest force for world enlightenment and freedom that history has ever known”); a family car that converts into a plane so easily that ”a woman could do it by herself in only five minutes”; and finally, a correct prediction — a superfast, 200-mph intercity ”bullet” train. As the millennium approaches, more books like this will probably pop up, but it would be hard to find one more packed with intelligence and appeal. A