1. YOU: OWNER'S MANUAL - Michael F. Roizen & Mehmet C. Oz
Content: A medical maintenance guide for the human body.
Gist: The authors believe people who understand their bodies will better care for them, so in a breezily written, heavily illustrated volume they set out to explain the body's systems, avoiding technical terms and using lots of pop-culture terms to make their points. The book recommends meditation and provides practical advice about supplements, exercise, and diet.
2. FREAKONOMICS - Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Content: Mr. Levitt is an economist who professes not to care much about straight economics. He'd rather use his profession's tools to answer noneconomic questions.
Gist: Mr. Levitt's most notorious chapter argues that crime fell in the '90s because of Roe v. Wade. But as Steven Sailer points out, the first kids born after Roe became teenagers in the mid-1980s, when crack-fueled murders were way up. Mr. Levitt is interesting but not necessarily reliable.
3. THE WORLD IS FLAT - Thomas Friedman
Content: Mr. Friedman, focusing on the internet and high-speed communications, writes about how technological change is shrinking the world.
Gist: The audacious subtitle ("A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century") would require a broad vision, but Mr. Friedman is so tightly focused on technology that he ignores more fundamental cultural factors. Astoundingly, he visits modern corporate citadels in Bangalore, India, then visits a village of untouchables, and still doesn't ask questions about Hinduism.
4. ON BULL-- - Harry G. Frankfurt
Content: If people know bull-when they hear it, why the need for an academic treatise on it?
Gist: If you take the tools and vocabulary belonging to philosophical discourse and apply them to the subject of the title of this book, you get something that wanders close to parody. The book will appeal to those who get naughty satisfaction in seeing the title word embedded within academic jargon.
5. FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT - Mireille Guiliano
Content: French women don't get fat and they don't endlessly talk about diets. Using common sense and a bit of self-control, you won't either.
Gist: As an exchange student in the United States, Ms. Guiliano learned firsthand the dangers of eating American-style. In her native France she learned the antidote: Eat smaller portions and sit down to eat. Buy fresh ingredients and cook for flavor. This book will appeal to those who enjoy food and are tired of by-the-numbers diet books.
In the spotlight
Gilead, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2004), is gospel-drenched fiction that rewards those who persevere past its slow initial chapters. Diagnosed with angina and expecting soon to die, 76-year-old preacher John Ames sets down on paper those things he's afraid he won't live long enough to tell his 7-year-old son. Ames's journal veers from recollections of his own past, including stories his father told him, to carefully observed vignettes of the present.
The book would be sad if Ames didn't have such joy in the present and expectations of joy in heaven. A wistfulness hangs over it-but Ames takes comfort that God will care for the boy and his mother. The theme of fathers, sons, and prodigals permeates the book-but the limitations of human fathers never cast doubt on God.