NOTEWORTHY

FICTION

THE BLIND ASSASSIN, by Margaret Atwood, Doubleday, $26

This year's Booker Prize winner is a historical mystery about an old woman who has spent her life in the shadow of her sister, a one-book novelist who committed suicide years ago. Told in a wonderfully complex narrative, the story blends early 20th-century Canadian history with a science-fiction tale from the planet Zycron. (521 pp.)

MR. SPACEMAN, by Robert Olen Butler, Atlantic Monthly Press, $24

Desi has news for humanity. After studying Earth and its commercials for 100 years, he beams a bus load of gamblers aboard his ship for a final supper. His alien perspective illuminates the comic aspects of our lives that have grown dim with familiarity. A mixture of sweet absurdity, social criticism, and theological speculation. (224 pp.)

WINTER RANGE, by Claire Davis, Picador USA, $23

The new sheriff, Ike Parsons, and his wife are just settling into a good life in this small Wyoming town when a local rancher runs out of money and spitefully decides to let his cattle starve. Ominous throughout, this debut novel races toward a gripping, ice-bound tragedy that tests the limits of Ike's faith in himself, his wife, and the law. (262 pp.)

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, by Dave Eggers, Simon & Schuster, $23

There are so many reasons to dislike this super-hip, post-modern autobiography that it's something of a disappointment to report how wonderful it is. What saves the book is not its very funny linguistic pranks, but the tender story of Eggers's desperate love for his eight-year-old brother after the death of their parents. Eggers captures the delight and terror of parenthood. (375 pp.)

STERN MEN, by Elizabeth Gilbert, Houghton Mifflin, $24

The lobstermen of Fort Niles and Courne Haven have fought one another for years. When Ruth returns to Fort Niles after a private-school education, she has nothing to do till she spots Owney, the hunky nephew of a minister from Courne Haven. Think "Romeo and Juliet" with a Maine drawl. (289 pp.)

DISOBEDIENCE, by Jane Hamilton, Doubleday, $24.95

With stunning economy, Henry describes his senior year in high school - the year he fell in love, his sister shaved her head, and his mother committed adultery. Though it's a psychological tale as old as Oedipus Rex, this disturbing story also explores the way new technology interacts with old human weaknesses. (304 pp.)

ELECTRIC GOD, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Simon & Schuster, $23

The author of the current movie "Pay It Forward" has constructed a modern version of Job that's also one of the most entertaining novels of the year. On Hayden's 50th birthday, he doesn't have a job, his family is gone, his girlfriend dumps him, and his dog dies. What will it take to get him to realize there might be a better way than raging against God? (320 pp.)

WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS, by Kazuo Ishiguro, Knopf, $25

This tragic story about Christopher Banks, a detective haunted by the disappearance of his parents when he was a child, is a stunning exhibition of narrative skill. Convinced he could have saved them if only he'd paid more attention, Banks returns to Shanghai 20 years later to find them. Booker Prize nominee. (336 pp.)

PRODIGAL SUMMER, by Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins, $26

The stories of Deonna Wolfe, Lusa Landowski, and Nannie Rawley, three women living alone in southern Appalachia, are wound together in this celebration of the erotic earth. In their own separate settings, they struggle against a culture that denigrates them for not being "natural ladies," but through nature, they find far more profound ways to be women. Some syrupy romance, but always entertaining. (444 pp.)

THE BANYAN TREE, by Christopher Nolan, Arcade, $25.95

Minnie O'Brien is an Irish farm woman born in the early 20th century. She is not poor. She is not unhappy. Her babies don't die. Can you imagine anything more revolutionary in an Irish novel? And yet the book is unflaggingly engaging. Everything in this charming story simmers with life. (374 pp.)

GRAVESEND LIGHT, by David Payne, Doubleday, $24.95

Joe, an ethnographer studying the fishing community on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, hopes to enter the town culture without disturbing it. Day, a doctor opening a women's clinic, shares none of Joe's qualms. They fall in love quickly, but a teen's pregnancy puts them on opposite sides of a polarizing debate. Concludes with a spectacular scene at sea. (382 pp.)

THE LOST LEGENDS OF NEW JERSEY, by Frederick Reiken, Harcourt, $24

Anthony is a Jewish boy burdened and blessed with a sympathy for others - especially the beautiful girl next door, whose gangster father is bad news. Anthony is wise beyond his age but eager, anxious, and full of excitement. This is a witty novel that bribes us to accept its painful moments with the delight of unlikely romance. (312 pp.)

SCANDALMONGER, by William Safire, Simon & Schuster, $27

In this smart dramatization of the scandals that shook Thomas Jefferson's administration, almost all the dialogue is constructed from letters, diaries, speeches, and essays. The result is like pressing your ear to the door of America's most dynamic decade. (496 pp.)

IN AMERICA, by Susan Sontag, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26

Maryna, a Polish actress yearning for simple authenticity, moves to California to begin a utopian community. When it falters, she hopes to restart her former theatrical career, but she discovers that being a great European actress is not the same as being an American celebrity. National Book Award nominee. (387 pp.)

NONFICTION A FORCE MORE POWERFUL, by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, St. Martin's Press, $29.95

This book makes clear that revolutionary violence undermines chances for workable democracy, while nonviolent movements confront oppression more effectively and lead to more democratic results. The authors examine two-dozen episodes of "political struggle, social upheaval, and military action" on five continents. PBS companion volume. (533 pp.) By Joshua Rubenstein

NOTHING LIKE IT IN THE WORLD, by Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, $28

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad, cross-country transit that had taken months - with life-threatening dangers - was safely accomplished in a week. Ambrose writes about the group of men who conceived and carried out this heroic project. (431 pp.) By Keith Henderson

THE BATTLE FOR GOD, by Karen Armstrong, Knopf, $27.95

As a portrait of militant fundamentalism - Jewish, Islamic, and Christian - this is stunning, a genuinely brilliant and magisterial achievement. But Armstrong has embraced the postmodern notion that religion is necessarily mythic and mysterious, so that the only kind of truth it can deliver is beyond the reach of reason. (442 pp.) By Colin Campbell

ARMING AMERICA, by Michael Bellesiles, Knopf, $30

According to this book, the pro-gun argument is built on myth. America, says Bellesiles, was not settled by pioneers toting guns. He is not the first to propose this argument, but his history is one of the most convincing. (603 pp.) By Gerard J. DeGroot

THE DARK VALLEY, by Piers Brendon, Knopf, $35

Brendon provides a superlative re-creation of the world that passed away in 1939. It was a world fraught with domestic challenges brought on by the Great Depression, and those domestic concerns made it impossible for the politicians in the United States, Britain, and France to take meaningful steps to hem in the burgeoning Nazi power. (795 pp.) By Richard A. Nenneman

THEIR FINEST HOUR, by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig, Simon & Schuster, $27.50

In 1940, the future of Western civilization looked bleak. Hitler's armies were taking over. By skillfully weaving individual recollections into the broader account of political strategy, the authors describe how the British prevailed, and they make the story of this decisive period come alive. (320 pp.) By Terry W. Hartle

Few become prison guards unless they absolutely have to, but journalist Conover is an exception. The result of Conover's odyssey is an endlessly fascinating, suspenseful look into Sing Sing, the most famous, fearsome prison of all. "Newjack" may set the standard for prison writing for years to come. (321 pp.) By Steve Weinberg

JEFFERSON DAVIS, AMERICAN, by William Cooper, Knopf, $35

Cooper has succeeded in bringing the leader of the Confederate forces back to life in all of his complexity and subtlety. Based on a wealth of primary sources and stippled with color, texture, and detail, this definitive new biography gives lavish attention to Jefferson Davis's career before and after the Civil War. (672 pp.) By David Shi

WAY OUT THERE IN THE BLUE, by Frances FitzGerald, Simon & Schuster, $30

When President Reagan proposed his "star wars" defense system, he set off years of controversy and billions of dollars of research. In this case study of presidential statecraft, FitzGerald provides far more laugh-out-loud anecdotes than a reader has any right to expect from a tome on arms control. (592 pp.) By Ruth Walker

TALES FROM RHAPSODY HOME, by John Gould, Algonquin Books, $18.95

In this collection of complaints and tall tales written in the annoying quietude of a retirement facility "somewhere in Maine," Gould proves that it's possible to criticize without being a grouch. The longtime Monitor columnist constantly ruffles up his feathers in outrage and then winks at us. (182 pp.)

ORDINARY RESURRECTIONS, by Jonathan Kozol, Crown, $25

Kozol continues to prick America's conscience. Quietly and systematically, through the innocent voices and astute observations of school children, he documents the injustices of "apartheid education." A moving, sensitive analysis. (388 pp.) By Marilyn Gardner

MY WAR GONE BY, I MISS IT SO, by Anthony Loyd, Atlantic Monthly Press, 336 pp., $25

This is the story of Anthony Loyd, a British journalist who became addicted to war and heroin. Almost haphazardly, Loyd enters some of the world's most brutal conflicts to determine if a war correspondent can operate without bias. By the end, the answer is a resounding "no," as Loyd becomes almost as consumed with fighting as the combatants. (336 pp.) By Justin Brown

MATTANZA, by Theresa Maggio, Perseus Press, $25

Maggio recounts her love for Favignana, a small island off the coast of Sicily that lies along the route of giant bluefin tuna. Since the Stone Age, the people have trapped bluefins and harvested them during a mattanza, a traditional ritual of culling and killing the fish by hand. (288 pp.) By Scott Knickerbocker

ME AGAINST MY BROTHER, by Scott Peterson, Routledge, $26

Monitor correspondent Peterson provides a detailed and illustrated tour of the battlegrounds of Somalia, a country riven with clan warfare; Rwanda, the site of a genocide that rivaled Pol Pot's murderous rampage in Cambodia; and Sudan, where holy wars rooted in the Crusades still rage. (357 pp.) By Peter I. Rose

THE BOXER REBELLION, by Diana Preston, Walker & Co., $28

The Boxer movement, a union of several local societies in northeastern China, gained a reputation for killing Christians. In this tremendously exciting history, Preston places the Boxer Rebellion in a larger context, noting how the symbols and themes reappeared 65 years later during the Cultural Revolution. Her use of previously unutilized diaries presents a vivid picture of life in the foreign legations. (436 pp.) By Kim Risedorph

REMBRANDT'S EYES, by Simon Schama, Knopf, $50

Schama argues that the key to understanding Rembrandt's art is to appreciate the events that shaped Dutch life in the early 17th century. This fascinating book combines political and religious history, and a biography of both Rembrandt and Rubens, the most widely known artist of the time. (750 pp.) By Terry W. Hartle

THE WAR AGAINST BOYS: HOW MISGUIDED FEMINISM IS HARMING OUR YOUNG MEN, by Christina Hoff Sommers,

Simon & Schuster, $26

Despite the popular '90s myth of the "fragile girl," Sommers charges that it is boys who remain "on the weak side of an educational gender gap." Sommers's voice is impassioned and articulate. But her book cries out for the voices of boys themselves, and for the perspectives of their parents and teachers. (224 pp.) By Marilyn Gardner

THE SKY IS NOT THE LIMIT, by Neil de Grasse Tyson, Doubleday, $23.95

As director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium in New York City, Tyson presides over a place where the magic of electronics can whisk you to the farthest galaxy. His memoir is as much a captivating biography of the universe as it is a chronicle of his career. It's also tempered with the cold reality of the struggle black scientists face in pursuing their careers. (208 pp.) By Robert C. Cowen

PONTIUS PILATE, by Ann Wroe, Random House, $26.95

Wroe's biography of Pontius Pilate is, on one hand, an attempt to recover the historical reality of the flesh-and-blood Roman official who presided over the trial and Crucifixion of Jesus. But, on the other hand, it is also a kind of survey of the ways he has been imagined and represented in legend, drama, and art through the centuries. (412 pp.) By Merle Rubin

On the Monitor's Web site, each of these mini-reviews is hyperlinked to the full version in our archive. Go to csmonitor.com/books. Send e-mail comments to charlesr@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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