December 18, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

A look at three newsmen’s upcoming books

No fewer than three newsmen — Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Daily News editorial director and former Random House chief Harry Evans — have authored end-of-the-century tomes. Rivaling Tom Wolfe’s latest in both portentousness and pounds, the books cry out for stick-on gift tags: This one’s for Grandpa, this one’s for brilliant little Emily, this one’s for Uncle Rick-who-was-in-the-war. Unfortunately, the three writers haven’t made it that easy. Here’s how to tell the doorstops apart:

The American people show up in Evans’ tome, The American Century, only as gold diggers, garment workers, and civil rights protesters. Each President gets a two-page biographical spread, and Evans’ sharp, occasionally sarcastic essays at the beginning of each chapter cover serious topics like isolationism, Vietnam, and Reaganomics. The pictures, while stunning, are all black and white. This is history for those who don’t care about Charlie Chaplin, Rosie the Riveter, or gay culture. Presiding muse: Calvin Coolidge, e.g., ”The business of America is business.” B

Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster’s volume has color pictures. It also has Picasso, ’50s ads, and Diana’s funeral. This is history according to World News Tonight, capturing the images at the top of your brain when someone says 1929, 1950, or 1968. Written as a companion book to a series airing on ABC in March, The Century has a windy, loose organization that works better on TV. For example, the chapter titled ”Mass Markets” jumps from Elvis to Marilyn to Martin Luther King Jr.; the juxtaposition jars. Presiding muse: Walter Cronkite. B

Tom Brokaw bites off much less than Jennings with The Greatest Generation, concerning himself only with the personal histories of 50-odd men and women who came of age during World War II. Their heroism is undeniable, but it seems more the result of circumstance than something in the milk. Plus, because this is the pre-therapy generation, Brokaw’s representatives refuse to analyze their lifesaving deeds, their divorces, or their stormy relationships with their flower children. Brokaw doesn’t push — in his mind, stoicism is a virtue. Presiding muse: Steven Spielberg (although even Private Ryan shed a few tears). C-

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