Culture | The five best-selling nonfiction paperbacks as measured by placement on four leading lists as of Jan. 28

Issue: "Paying the price," Feb. 9, 2002
Scoring system: 10 points for first place down to 1 for 10th on The New York Times list (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), the American Booksellers Association list (independent, sometimes highbrow stores), and two lists from The New York Times website: one for independent bookstores, one for chains.
A Beautiful Mind
Sylvia Nasar 38 points (ABA: 1st; NYT: 2nd; PW: 1st; 2nd)
Misnamed biography (made into the current successful movie) of math genius and Nobel Prize winner John Nash, whose career was interrupted by severe mental illness.

Those interested in learning more about John Nash's world, the intellectual hothouses of Princeton and MIT during the Cold War, when mathematics promised to provide the key to understanding everything, will see that a brilliant mind isn't necessarily a wise one, and intelligence isn't godliness.

The Four Agreements
Don Miguel Ruiz 16 points (ABA: 5th; NYT: not listed; PW: 2nd; 10th)
A guide for living based on ancient Toltec teaching.

Mr. Ruiz, arguing that man is good and part of a pantheistic god, adds one more volume to the groaning shelf of New Age self-help books. He claims that external rules, laws, customs, and manners leave us shackled. Only by rising above the Ten Commandments or any other rules will we be all we can be.

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Some could be confused by the book's twisting of words like sin.

Fast Food Nation
Eric Schlosser 16 points (ABA: 2nd; NYT: 4th; PW: not listed; not listed)
A muckraking investigation into the fast-food industry.

In this lively exposé, Eric Schlosser depicts the fast-food industry as the source of many evils: the decline of the family farm, the homogenization of the urban landscape, and the enlargement of the American waistline. With sometimes twisted statistics and an eye for gruesome detail, he portrays a fast-food threat and demands a governmental solution.

Contains scattered profanities.

Retire Young, Retire Rich
Robert Kiyosaki 15 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: not listed: PW: 4th; 3rd)
A critique of conventional thinking about work and retirement, and a method for getting wealthy.

Kiyosaki pits rich dad (his best friend's father) against poor dad (his own dad) and shows how his dad's worldview kept him "poor." His father never achieved financial independence because he worked hard and saved rather than leveraged other people's resources. Kiyosaki makes some useful insights, but glosses over the risks of real-estate investing and ignores the biblical idea of occupational calling.

Black Hawk Down
Mark Bowden 12 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: 1st; PW: not listed; 9th)
An immensely detailed, blow-by-blow account (the basis of the box-office hit) of the 1993 Mogadishu fire-fight that left 19 American soldiers dead and ended U.S. involvement in Somalia.

With dull, heavy-handed prose, Mark Bowden splices his story together from so many different perspectives that it is hard to follow. The narrative line-apart from revealing commentary on the Army's unit hierarchy -gets lost among outbursts of violence.

Bad language, graphic violence.

Of the books attempting to make sense of Sept. 11, Thomas Boston's The Crook in the Lot, originally published in the 18th century and reprinted in 2001 by Soli Deo Gloria, is one of the best. Writing as a pastor in the Puritan style (proposition 1, premise 1, 2, 3), Boston defines a "crook" as a piece of adversity that continues over some time and "is the great engine of Providence for making men appear in their true colors," whether evil or good. We can stand up under adversity when we realize "it is of God's making.... Since it is your Father who has made it for you, question not but there is a favorable design in it towards you." Boston shows that God may be plunging us into adversity so that we can learn humility: He does not want us to be pridefully concerned with our own reputations. God may be revealing to us other sins as well; we must remember that "Since the crook in the lot is of God's making ... be reconciled to it and submit to it whatever it is." We should also learn from God's gracious actions, because "All the liftings up which the humbled meet with now are pledges, and but pledges and samples of the great lifting up awaiting them on the other side."


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