Culture

Bestsellers

Culture | The five bestselling nonfiction paperbacks as measured by placement on four leading lists as of October 5.

Issue: "Midwest's middle men," Oct. 21, 2000
Scoring System: 10 points for first place, 9 for second, down to 1 for tenth, on the lists of the American Booksellers Association (independent, sometimes highbrow stores), The New York Times (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), USA Today (3,000 large-inventory bookstores), and Amazon.com (web purchases).
1
Nothing Like it in the World
Stephen Ambrose 33 points (ABA: 1st; NYT: 1st; USA Today: 2nd; Amazon.com: 7th)
PLOT
The story of the men who built the Transcontinental Railroad and the way it changed America.

GIST
Stephen Ambrose's history books read like novels and he loves to tell stories about men with a vision overcoming difficult problems. He has done it again in this story of risk-takers-both immigrant builders and capitalist funders-who sought to unite physically the nation the Civil War had torn asunder.

WORLDVIEW
Heroic Humanism.

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CAUTION
N/A

2
Who Moved My Cheese?
Spencer Johnson 25 points (ABA: 2nd; NYT: not listed; USA Today: 1st; Amazon.com: 5th)
PLOT
A parable about the inevitability of change and the need to embrace it.

GIST
In the parable, 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. 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

3
The O'Reilly Factor
Bill O'Reilly 23 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: 2nd; USA Today: 6th; Amazon.com: 2nd)
PLOT
The talk-show pugilist's book is full of his opinions on just about everything.

GIST
O'Reilly Factor (Fox News Channel) viewers know that Bill O'Reilly argues with those on the right almost as frequently as with those on the left. He's a bipartisan scold who leans right on economic issues and left on social ones. This book reads like a collection of paragraph-length sound bites, interrupted by even shorter sound bites.

WORLDVIEW
Curmudgeon.

CAUTION
N/A

4
Tuesdays with Morrie
Mitch Albom 21 points (ABA: 6th; NYT: 3rd; USA Today: 3rd; Amazon.com: not listed)
PLOT
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: "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.

CAUTION
N/A

5
It's Not About the Bike
Lance Armstrong 20 points (ABA: 3rd; NYT: 7th; USA Today: 5th; Amazon.com: 9th)
PLOT
Armstrong takes on cancer and the Tour de France and wins both.

GIST
"When I was 25, I got testicular cancer and nearly died..." Lance Armstrong didn't die. His memoir describes well his cancer and cycling battles. Readers looking for a testimony to God's grace will instead find dismissal.

WORLDVIEW
Humanism.

CAUTION
Foul language, description of dangerous childhood pranks.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
With the Olympics over and the networks rolling out new fall series, culture warriors are denouncing the new immoralities and indignities Hollywood is foisting on the viewing public. In Shows About Nothing, Thomas S. Hibbs (Spence, 1999) argues that violence and glorification of evil in popular culture are only reflections of a bigger problem: the influence of nihilism in modern society. This scholarly work first seeks to define nihilism; no easy task, it turns out, for nihilism can take many different forms. Essentially, nihilism is a philosophy of despair whose believers have no lofty goals to aspire to, no credible moral codes, and no possibility of excelling without being dragged down by some malevolent force. Mr. Hibbs then traces nihilism's influence on American film and television, from the violent evil of The Exorcist to the "normal nihilism" of Seinfeld, where nothing is taken seriously, and no one ever changes. Although Mr. Hibbs offers a few rays of hope (Schindler's List is an example of a modern film going against the grain of nihilism), for the most part Shows About Nothing is a sobering look at a very real problem in a culture where, increasingly, good and evil are viewed as matters of taste with no objective difference between them.

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