The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Nonfiction

1. 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

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. 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

4. 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

5. 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

6. 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

7. JUST AS I AM, by Billy Graham, HarperCollins, $28.50

For almost 80 years Rev. Graham has been converting people, and this book is certain to reap more. Graham is as objective as one can be in recording his own life. He admits to his own mistakes and failings with an obvious honesty. And he takes responsibility for his actions. Don't be daunted by the 730-page length. If a man can successfully preach for more than 50 years, he knows how to keep an audience. The book is an engaging account of his life. By Janet Moller

8. INTO THE STORM, by Tom Clancy and Frederick M. Franks, Putnam, $27.50

This book is the first of four in a series by Clancy on the operational art of war as seen through the eyes of actual battle commanders. Written with Franks (now retired), the first active-duty amputee general in the US Army since the Civil War, it presents exhaustive details about tank and infantry fighting in the Gulf War. A central theme is the role played by officers in reviving morale in the US Army since Vietnam - the rebirth of an essential quality - "heart." By Jim Bencivenga

9. 8 WEEKS TO OPTIMUM HEALTH, by Andrew Weil, MD, Knopf, $23

Dr. Weil loves ginger. "If I had a daughter, I think I would have named her Ginger," he writes. He speaks highly of cordyceps, known in China as "caterpillar fungus." He writes: "Perfect health is not possible," only "optimum health," for which one must walk, stretch, avoid ultraviolet rays, go to a museum, buy flowers, forgive others. Now, what after eight weeks? The critical question is left unanswered in Chapter 13: "Week Nine And Beyond." By Suman Bandrapalli

10.THE DILBERT FUTURE, by Scott Adams, HarperBusiness, $25

The future according to Dilbert (underemployed engineer of comic-strip fame) and cartoonist Scott Adams (survivor of corporate incompetence and cubicle politics) applies "The Dilbert Principle" (previous book) to predict the course of humanity in the 21st century. People stay the same but technology will improve. New and exciting computers will enable workers to get paid for goofing off. These developments should improve corporate morale! By Joanna Angelides

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. 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

13. 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

14. 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

15. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK II, by Neale Donald Walsch, Hampton Roads, $19.95. In 1993, Oregon pastor Neale Donald Walsch began the second of three "dialogues with God." In this sequel to his previous bestseller, he emphasizes the freedom found in overcoming fear and discusses the nature of mankind (perfect), time (eternal, not linear), and hell (doesn't exist). Some may find the statement that Hitler didn't do anything wrong because there's no such thing as right and wrong tough to take. By Yvonne Zipp


THE SUNFLOWER: On The Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

By Simon Wiesenthal

Schocken Books 271 pp., $24

In this autobiographical fable, "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness," Simon Wiesenthal applies various features of Holocaust memoir, fiction, and oral testimony to pose an incomparable moral dilemma: "You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks your forgiveness. What would you do?"

The query taps the deepest recesses of the post-Holocaust imagination. It also drives the reader to contemplate the unthinkable - how would I have acted in the Holocaust? Would I have survived with my humanity intact?

"The Sunflower" was first published in the United States in 1976. Wiesenthal has spent a lifetime bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

The author employed a fictionalized autobiographical account as a foil for raising profound moral questions about the nature of forgiveness. A symposium on the issue of forgiveness was included.

This 20th-anniversary edition is accompanied by a fresh set of responses. Ten original respondents are included and 36 new respondents are added. These are quiet, probing, carefully crafted rejoinders by theologians, writers, philosophers, and survivors of genocide. Granting a dying SS man clemency is a complicated, controversial act of mercy. We need to ask ourselves why that is so, more than 50 years later.

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