The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Nonfiction
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PILLAR OF FIRE: AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS
By Taylor Branch
Simon and Schuster
Civil rights history has meaning as a collective biography for Americans today (one sadly neglected and distorted). But it is also humanity's story - an inspiration for movements like the dissent that toppled the Berlin Wall or the Tiananmen Square protest for democracy in China.
As "Pillar of Fire," the second volume of Taylor Branch's epic history makes clear, the main actors in civil rights were not politicians or generals. Rather they were itinerant black clergy, idealistic students, nameless housewives, community organizers - "little people" - who brought governors and presidents to the table to end segregation and the reign of terror that enforced it.
Branch's first volume, "Parting the Waters," covers the years 1954-1963 and won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1989 for its breathtaking scope and for revealing black Christianity as the real wellspring of civil rights. "Pillar of Fire" is a relentless and majesterial tour through the interconnected dramas of 1963 to 1965, when history accelerates rapidly. A planned third volume, "At Canaan's Edge," will tell the story through 1968. At the center of it all is Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life, Branch argues convincingly, is "the most important metaphor" for America in those watershed years. At bottom, however, the story is the struggle to crack an entrenched "way of life," as supporters of segregation called it. Resistance was deep and broad. The civil rights question is still on the table.
1. SIMPLE ABUNDANCE, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, Warner, $18.95
A spiritual self-help book for the "modern woman," 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. 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
3. 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
4. THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR, by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, Longstreet, $22