Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Nonfiction
1. ANGELA'S ASHES: A MEMOIR, by Frank McCourt, Scribners, $23
"Angela's Ashes," Frank McCourt's brilliant and tender memoir of his miserable Irish Catholic childhood in Limerick, Ireland, is a deeply moving story and a very funny book. Angela was McCourt's mother. The story begins in Brooklyn during the Depression as she tries to hold the family together; later, because of his father's alcoholism the family is forced to return to Ireland, where McCourt discovers Shakespeare and language. It is a book of splendid humanity. By Devon McNamara
2. INTO THIN AIR, by Jon Krakauer, Villard, $24.95
Krakauer writes compellingly that he wanted his personal account of a guided tour up Mt. Everest to have a raw, ruthless sort of honesty, and it does. On May 10, 1996, nine of his fellow climbers, including three guides, were killed in a storm that swept the mountain. Krakauer hoped "... that writing the book might purge Everest from my life. It hasn't, of course." Readers of this book will never think of the world's highest peak in quite the same way again. By Suzanne MacLachlan
3. MIRACLE CURES, by Jean Carper, HarperCollins, $25
Jean Carper's guide to the alternative medicines of today describes the growing search for safer, less medically invasive forms of healing. Most of the book is a description of natural remedies (such as ginger, gingko, and bee pollen) and the ailments they are used for. While never including any form of spiritual healing, Carper's book also looks ahead at medical healing in the future
By Noel Christian Paul
4. SIMPLE ABUNDANCE, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, Warner, $17.95
A spiritual self-help book for the "modern woman," a how-to book that offers to overcome stress and assist in self-discovery with topical readings on gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy. There is a reading for each day of the calendar year. Like modern gold-mining - 30 tons of shoveled dirt to find one ounce of gold - there are pages of platitudes before one hits an original insight. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" spotlighted this book. By Jim Bencivenga
5. THE BIBLE CODE, by Michael Drosnin, Simon & Schuster, $25
"The Bible Code" has international intrigue, quasi-supernatural mystery, even a touch of celebrity name-dropping. But none of this eases the strain on the reader's credulity. Michael Drosnin's premise, that scores of prophetic messages are encoded in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, is supported by flawed assumptions and unexplained methodologies. "The Bible Code" sadly ignores the inspiration of the Scriptures in favor of millennarian gobbledygook. By Judy Huenneke
6. THE PERFECT STORM, by Sebastian Junger, W.W. Norton, $22.95
"The Perfect Storm" serves as both title and metaphor recounting the once-in-a-century phenomenon in which major weather systems converge into one awesome storm. A meditation on and an adrenaline-pumping account of weather gone awry, the book integrates meteorological observations into accounts of the lives and deaths of the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail. What ultimately makes this unique and admirable is its overriding humanity. By Judith Bolton-Fasman
7. THE GIFT OF FEAR, by Gavin de Becker, Little, Brown & Co., $22.95
De Becker sends a powerful message: Violence is usually not unpredictable and people should be better informed about how to keep from becoming its victims. He backs it up by his own expertise in analyzing violence and evaluating threats to both the famous and the ordinary. Detailed anecdotes inform his hearty defense of intuition as an essential tool. The book places value on "real fear" as a survival instinct. It emphasizes freedom from unnecessary anxiety. By Stacy Teicher
8. BRAIN DROPPINGS, by George Carlin, Hyperion, $19.95
George Carlin may be Howard Stern's brother, at least for the glee they share over insufferably puerile humor. Carlin, in a low class by himself, is occasionally funny in this joke book. But behind the laughs lurks a scatological pessimist. And for a man who says he "believes in nothing," wait a minute; this "book" costs $19.95. And the title is much too kind.
By David Holmstrom
9. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, Book I, by Neale Donald Walsch, Putnam, $19.95
Written in a very simple, accessible style, this book is based on what the author, the founder of an Oregon-based organization called ReCreation, describes as a three-year conversation with God that he transcribed. It contains some substantial insights and flashes of humor. God is described as an all-good, omnipotent Being, who is constantly communicating with all people. Prayer is described as a process, not a petition. First of three books. By Abraham T. McLaughlin
10. MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, by John Berendt, Random House, $23 This zany portrait of Savannah, Ga., sings with original characters. It tells the universal tale of small-town life in which neighborly rivalries and gossip are pastimes. But Savannah's characters are even more outrageous - sometimes more sensuous - than those of most small towns: from a good-natured conman who invites the town to raucous parties in other people's houses to "The Lady Chablis" - a drag queen who crashes debutante balls. By Abraham T. McLaughlin
11. KIDS ARE PUNNY: JOKES SENT BY KIDS TO 'THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW,' Warner, $10 Where do you find the world's biggest spider? In the World Wide Web. What's a cow's favorite TV show? Steer Trek. What do you call 100 rabbits jumping backward? A receding hare line. When talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell dispensed with adult jokes in her opening monologue, she replaced them with these "kid jokes" sent in by the throngs of children who watch her program. Proceeds for this slim collection, which is cute and sometimes witty, go to charity. By Kim Campbell
12. THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR, by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, Longstreet, $22 After two decades of analyzing wealth, professors Stanley and Danko provide extensive demographic profiles of Americans with assets of $1 million or more. They conclude that lavish spending habits are the stuff of Hollywood myth. Most millionaires, they say, have succeeded through business efficiency as well as frugality, not inheritance. In summary: To amass wealth, one must invest well and spend less. By Leigh Montgomery
13. MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, by John Gray, HarperCollins, $23
Written more for women, this easy-to-read guide helps men and women better understand how the other sex communicates. Although redundant and sometimes stereotypical, it goes beyond psychobabble. Gray, who has written an assortment of books on this topic, explores such issues as the difference between a man's silence and a woman's, why men and women resist the other sex's solutions, and how a man reacts when a woman needs to talk. By Shelley Donald Coolidge
14. MARTHA STEWART - JUST DESSERTS, by Jerry Oppenheimer, William Morrow, $24 Ambitious, talented people often use friends and colleagues as stepladders to fame and fortune. "Unauthorized biography" gumshoe Jerry Oppenheimer uses the newly famous as his stepladders to big royalties. Martha Stewart leveraged childhood kitchen skills, looks, drive, and shrewd management to vault past a husband, business associates, and Time Warner. Oppenheimer jerry-builds a semi-demi-bio that makes little effort to draw a balanced portrait. By Earl Foell
15. MARS AND VENUS ON A DATE, by John Gray, Harper, $25
John Gray expands his self-help orbit with this latest Mars and Venus book. Mixing equal parts common sense, old-fashioned dating advice, and his theory that men and women hail from different planets, Gray takes readers through his five stages to dating, e.g., in the early stages of dating the man should do the giving and the woman the receiving. Some readers may not appreciate having their feelings and gender pigeonholed - almost inevitable with dating manuals. By Yvonne Zipp
By Edward Rutherfurd
829 pp., $25.95
This is a great novel for anyone who loves London. It gives an impressive sense of the power of place and memory. The historical maps at the front of the book only begin to evoke that sense, leaving one wishing that there were more of them and that they were detailed enough to follow Edward Rutherfurd's romp through London's history.
"London" is less a novel than a historical re-creation.The story follows successive generations of eight families whose destinies intertwine throughout London's history from the Roman invasion to the Blitz.
Rutherfurd whisks the reader, sometimes too quickly, from one period to the next. But if the characters in each set piece are a little less lifelike than one might hope, the scenery and costumes are great.
Through the first half of the book, the most impressive story is that of the slow erection of the great institutions of the city, both those made of stone, wood, and brick and those, ultimately more enduring, made only of the imaginations of men and solidified as tradition.
The novel comes into its stride in the Tudor era, where the story lines become a bit more rich, the characters more fully developed. The story includes the origins of almost every major place name in the city as London seems to grow like a living organism. We watch the urban landscape change. We also see how the living memory of its inhabitants shapes that landscape.