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Bestsellers

Culture | The five best-selling nonfiction hardbacks as measured by placement on four leading lists as of June 20, 2000

Issue: "Nifty 50 Books," July 1, 2000
Scoring system:10 points for first place down to 1 for 10th on the American Booksellers Association list (independent, sometimes highbrow bookstores), The New York Times list (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), the USA Today list (3,000 large-inventory bookstores), and Amazon.com (Web purchases).
Flags of our Fathers
James Bradley and Ron Powers 37 points (ABA: 2rd; NYT: 1st; USA Today: 3rd; Amazon.com: 1st)
CONTENT
The story of six WW II soldiers immortalized by the famous photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima.

GIST
James Bradley's father was one of the flag raisers, but his father never spoke of his experience except to say, "The real heroes of Iwo Jima were the guys who didn't come back." The book recreates the battle, where 22,000 Japanese and nearly 26,000 Americans died, and reconstructs the lives of the six flag raisers.

WORLDVIEW
Humanism.

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CAUTION
Graphic description of war.

Tuesdays with Morrie
Mitch Albom 30 points (ABA: 5th; NYT: 2nd; USA Today: 5th; Amazon.com: 2nd)
CONTENT
Conversations of a middle-aged sportswriter searching for purpose and the articulate, witty, caring professor who taught him 20 years before.

GIST
Morrie Schwartz, dying of Lou Gehrig's disease, probes Mitch Albom's motivations: "Have you found someone to share your heart with? Are you giving to the community? Are you at peace with yourself?"

WORLDVIEW
Chasing material things is shallow; the answer lies in a mix of Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism on an agnostic base.

CAUTION
N/A

Who Moved My Cheese?
Spencer Johnson 22 points (ABA: 6th; NYT: not listed; USA Today: 1st; Amazon.com: 4th)
CONTENT
A parable about the inevitability of change and the need to embrace it.

GIST
Cheese makes us happy. We get accustomed to it, develop an entitlement attitude toward it, and don't notice when it begins to smell bad or disappear. When we fight to hold on to cheese, we hurt ourselves and our organizations. The parable, however, doesn't show how to discern when it is wise or necessary to resist change to uphold a higher principle.

WORLDVIEW
Relativism.

CAUTION
N/A

In the Heart of the Sea
Nathaniel Philbrick 22 points (ABA: 3rd; NYT: 5th; USA Today: 6th; Amazon.com: 8th)
CONTENT
A gripping account of the 1820 sinking of the whaleship Essex and the struggle for survival of its 21-member crew.

GIST
Relying on first-person accounts by the first mate and his 14-year-old cabin boy, Philbrick writes a harrowing story of a whaling disaster that became the basis for Melville's Moby Dick. Philbrick brings his tale to life by skillfully weaving in information about sailing, current research on starvation, and other survivor stories.

WORLDVIEW
Naturalism.

CAUTION
N/A

From Dawn to Decadence
Jacques Barzun 20 points (ABA: 8th; NYT:3rd; USA Today: not listed; Amazon.com: 2nd)
CONTENT
Five hundred years of western cultural life from 1500 to the present.

GIST
This encyclopedic cultural history looks at the past 500 years as an epoch coming to a close. Barzun is not a radical historian; his emphasis on the power of ideas and the role of individuals in shaping those ideas is refreshing. But he is a humanist and has the expected antipathy to an evangelical reliance on revealed truth.

WORLDVIEW
Humanist.

CAUTION
N/A

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The problems of first-time captain George Pollard's weak leadership style, the stinginess of the owners in supplying the ship, and the inexperience of the crew became nightmares when a sperm whale attacked the whaleship Essex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That's the story told by Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea, which is both a seafaring adventure and a survival tale. Philbrick, drawing from primary sources, writes both parts equally well. He delves into current research on starvation to describe the physical torture of men reduced to 1 1/2 ounces of bread a day. He relates their relentless suffering as they hang on for three months after their ship goes down, drinking as little as a pint of water a day. He explores the Quaker culture of Nantucket and takes note of the Christian beliefs of some of the black sailors. But he also shows how the will to survive can lead men to a final degradation: eating the corpses of their dead mates, and in one case drawing lots to determine who should die next. This is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is history as history should be written, where the deeds of men count for something.

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