The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Nonfiction

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Monitor's Pick

T.R.: THE LAST ROMANTIC

By H.W. Brands

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Basic Books

897pp., $35

This year marks a century since Theodore Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill and into the hearts of Americans. By the time he left the White House a decade later, he was arguably the most famous American on earth.

In his new biography, "T.R.: The Last Romantic," H.W. Brands reveals no hidden dark side of the Rough Rider. But he does suggest that T.R.'s "romantic" views let him see his life as a clear-cut battle between good and evil, a struggle of light and order against darkness and chaos.

Author, adventurer, explorer, hunter (the "teddy bear" was named for him when he spared a cub), conservationist, Nobel Peace Prize-winner, political reformer, and youngest president of the United States, T.R. burst on the scene like a force of nature, with enough energy and interests for several men or lifetimes.

Although beset by many tragedies, Roosevelt often remarked that he'd had the happiest of lives. This optimistic outlook won him respect and even love, perhaps because people saw in him their own best selves - the best of what it meant to be an American.

Today the face of the man who offered all Americans a "Square Deal," who made sure America's two coasts were linked by the Panama Canal, and who prodded America onto the world stage as a great power, is carved on Mt. Rushmore.

He still belongs in that august company, as Brand's engaging book amply shows.

Hardcover Nonfiction

1. SIMPLE ABUNDANCE, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, Warner, $18.95

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

2. 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

3. 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

4. ANGELA'S ASHES: A MEMOIR, by Frank McCourt, Scribner, $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

5. 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

6. TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, by Mitch Albom, Doubleday, $19.95

A beloved college professor who is dying agrees to meet each Tuesday with a former student and discuss life and death. The 14 "classes" are recorded by Mitch Albom, a well-known sportswriter, with his former teacher, Morrie Schwartz. Religion, family, friends, and work are carefully considered. Schwartz (now deceased) was interviewed at home by Ted Koppel and appeared on "Nightline." What keeps this uplifting book from being maudlin is Albom's crisp writing - and the generous heart of Schwartz. By Jim Bencivenga

7. DON'T WORRY, MAKE MONEY, by Richard Carlson, Hyperion, $15.95

Carlson has twice hit the bestseller list by telling people what most of them already know. But he succeeds by taking big, broad strategies for living and breaking them down into bite-sized, easily remembered and understood pieces. He also offers a pleasing switch from most money books. He doesn't tell you how to get rich. He suggests ways to find peace of mind, a zone that opens the door to opportunities to make and save money. He suggests that you start from a position of strength, then move on to the details. By Lynde McCormick

8. THE PERFECT STORM, by Sebastian Junger, W.W. Norton, $23.95

"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

9. TALKING TO HEAVEN: A MEDIUM'S MESSAGE...., by James Van Praagh, Dutton/Signet, $22.95

In "Talking to Heaven: A Medium's Message of Life After Death," James Van Praagh defines many aspects of psychic phenomena and gives examples from his own experience. He rejects organized religion and offers a conveniently eclectic mix of spiritualism, pop psychology, and Christianity, as well as New Age, Eastern, and Gnostic thought. The author discusses at length contacting departed loved ones by developing one's psychic abilities. By Debra Jones

10. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK I, by Neale Donald Walsch, Putnam, $19.95

Written in a 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

11. CITIZEN SOLDIERS, by Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, $27.50

Following up on his triumph with Lewis and Clark ("Dauntless Courage"), Stephen Ambrose has written another superb book that weaves WWII history into compelling human drama. The front-line soldier, often still in his teens, tells the story. His heroism and the brutality of his fox-hole-bound existence are unstintingly portrayed. So are the failings - sometimes shocking - of his superior officers. This book is an eye-opener, showing both the heights of character forged by war, and war's depths. By Keith Henderson

12. MAKE THE CONNECTION..., by Bob Greene and Oprah Winfrey, Hyperion, $18.95

Fueled by the success story of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, Bob Greene presents in "Make the Connection: 10 Steps to a Better Body-And a Better Life" a 10 step program that focuses on lifetime fitness and mental wellness as opposed to a quick-fix diet. He stresses the connection readers need to make between their personal life and weight. Oprah's successful weight loss, after so many public attempts, gives this book its appeal even though the steps present little new diet information. Includes a diet journal. By Debbie Hodges

13. The JOY OF COOKING, by Ethan Becker, I.S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Scribner, $30

The outward appearance of this cooking classic has not changed much in the past 22 years. But the innards have been updated, rewritten, and in some cases, discarded, due in large part to earnest efforts to make it a contemporary encyclopedia for cooks of all abilities. Illustrations that were line drawings are now stippled and three-dimensional. The simplicity of the drawings demystifies the more exotic ingredients and laborious preparation processes. One loss, though, is the original version's touches of humor. By Evan F. Mallett

14. 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 autobiography reveals the love, patience, and endurance of one man able to coax horses to voluntarily step out of their wild natures into a working relationship with people. Roberts troubled childhood mirrored the cruel techniques of his father's approach to horse breaking. By Jim Bencivenga

15. DIE BROKE, by Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine, HarperBusiness, $25

The most startling precept in Pollan's book is not its title. It's his advice on retirement: Don't. And, enjoy spending your money until it's all gone! Pollen argues the importance of improving family relations and quality of life now, rather than focusing on finances. While his attitude toward work seems cynical, the book is humane, readable, and spiced with personal examples. His views are slowly spreading, but the approach is not for everyone. By Eric C. Evarts

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