1. THE ROYALS, by Kitty Kelley, Warner, $27
"The Royals," Kitty Kelley's latest expedition into the private lives of public figures, picks up the history of Great Britain's royal family around World War I. Kelley tells a tabloidesque tale of the House of Windsor's excesses, dysfunctions, shortcomings, vices, and idiosyncrasies, from the queen mother's suspected illegitimacy to Prince Philip's playboy antics. Kelley claims the biography of the royals life is based on extensive research, but her definition of research incorporates countless unidentified sources and unsubstantiated quotes.
By Kristi Lanier
2. 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
3.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
4. THE MAN WHO LISTENS TO HORSES, by Monty Roberts, Random House, $23
Roberts talks the language of horses and they listen. Equus is the name he gives this silent language, developed over a lifetime of tireless reading of the body movements of "flight" animals such as the horse, mule, and even deer. This very detailed autobiography reveals the love, patience, and endurance of one man who has been able to coax horses to voluntarily step out of their wild natures into a working relationship with people. Roberts lays out how his own life mirrors the cruelty and drama of horse breakers.
By Jim Bencivenga
5. 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
6. 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
7. 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
8. TEN STUPID THINGS MEN DO TO MESS UP THEIR LIVES, by Laura Schlessinger, HarperCollins, $24
Reading this talk-radio psychologist means you can extract her often intelligent social commentary without having to listen to the carnivorous contempt she slathers on her callers. As likely to help flailing men as it is to interest their women, this book gives a no-apologies-argument for monogamy and marriage, attacks the politically correct prejudice that female modes of thinking are best, and pounds home the notion that personal gratification should take a backseat to responsibility.
By Clara Germani
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. BABYHOOD, by Paul Reiser, Morrow, $22
Paul Reiser's second foray into the literary world is not as funny as his first, the hilariously accurate "Couplehood." His latest book - a dad's eye view of having and caring for a baby - is contrived and lacks the laugh-out-loud quality of his previous effort. Some nuggets of humor are here (Reiser is a father both on TV's "Mad About You" and in real life), but they get lost among drawn-out anecdotes and discussions of body parts and bodily functions.
By Kim Campbell
11. 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
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. TEARS OF RAGE, by John Walsh, Pocket Books, $24
John Walsh, host of TV's America's Most Wanted, chronicles his painful quest for justice after the kidnapping and murder of his six-year-old son. Grief-stricken, he is drawn into activism to help other victims of violent crime. Heartfelt and heartbreaking, "Tears of Rage" reads like a made-for-TV movie - high on drama, loaded with emotion, but poorly written.
By John Hoyle
14. 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
15. 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
BIOMIMICRY: INNOVATION INSPIRED BY NATURE
By Janine M. Benyus
William Morrow & Co.,
256 pp., $25
Science writer Janine Benyus's, "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature," offers an enlightened alternative to Darwinism.
Her thesis is straightforward: The scientific effort to discover how we can live lightly and sustainably by learning from nature may well be the most important research now going on.
A naturalist and author of several field guides to wildlife, Benyus visited the laboratories of a number of researchers who take a modest approach to unraveling nature's secrets. What these researchers, Benyus presents, have in common is a reverence for natural designs and the inspiration to use them to solve human problems. They show we have much to learn from the natural world, as model, measure, and mentor.
Perhaps the most astonishing chapter describes work now going on at Arizona State University in Tempe and other research labs to understand a simple miracle: the creation of energy from light by photosynthesis.
Using electron microscopes and other devices, scientists can show us where photosynthesis occurs, but not how. Benyus compares this process to building solar batteries: "Every morning, as our technicians don their white suits and static-free moonboots to assemble high-tech solar cells in toxin-laden factories, the leaves and fronds and blades outside their windows are silently assembling themselves by the trillions."