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Best-selling books

Notable Books | Four bestselling novels as of Nov. 7

THE MARCH

CONTENT William Tecumseh Sherman's army, as it marched from Atlanta to the Atlantic and north into the Carolinas, daggered the Confederacy and carried in its train freed blacks, white refugees, and much besides.

GIST With poetic prose and memorable characterization, E.L. Doctorow brings to life the complex Sherman; his officers ferocious, pensive, or lustful; and a host of fictional travelers along a swath of destruction. Realistic battle and surgical scenes alternate with conversation generally true to the place and time. Sadly, Christianity is missing-but so is utter cynicism, as central characters find hope to keep hiking.

THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH

CONTENT When Carrie McGavock's plantation near Franklin, Tenn., becomes the site of a Confederate hospital, the grieving mother of three dead children finds new life caring for the dying and tending their graves.

GIST Hicks is fascinated by the historical figure of Carrie McGavock, and not very interested in the 1864 battle that brought her fame. So he invents a wounded soldier and makes his relationship to the still-married McGavock the center of the novel. This doesn't work novelistically, and it leaves the reader wondering if historical liberties taken by the author do a disservice to the one he was trying to remember.

A WEDDING IN DECEMBER

CONTENT A quarter century after their graduation from an elite prep school in Maine, a handful of high-school friends gather at an inn in western Massachusetts for the wedding of two of them.

GIST Shreve sets the wedding at a tastefully restored inn in the beautiful Berkshire mountains during an unseasonable December warm spell. To this gorgeous setting the troubled friends come, each dealing with guilt over the long-ago death of a high-school friend and other disappointments. Although Shreve acknowledges her characters' moral weaknesses, she seems to suggest that pursuit of true love is a valid excuse.

THE CAMEL CLUB

CONTENT Four Washington-based conspiracy nuts-the leader uses the pseudonym "Oliver Stone"-accidentally bump into a real conspiracy. With the help of a Secret Service agent and a Justice Department lawyer, they follow the clues all the way to the top.

GIST Baldacci weaves an elaborate plot that involves Middle-Eastern terrorists, manipulation of intelligence, kidnapping of the president, government corruption, and the potential use of a nuclear weapon. The plot will resonate most with those who sympathize with Muslim concerns, worry a lot about the CIA, oppose the war in Iraq, and say "give peace a chance."

In the spotlight

More books are, or will soon be, available to read online thanks to programs from Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. Microsoft struck an agreement with the British Library to make 100,000 of the library's out-of-copyright books available. Microsoft is digitizing 150,000 volumes under an agreement with the Open Content Alliance. Meanwhile Google Print went online with 10,000 books from several university libraries. So far Google is only including out-of-copyright books, but the company-controversially-has not ruled out digitizing and making available books still under copyright.

Amazon announced its Pages program to make copyrighted material available-for a price. Readers would be able to pay a small fee per page, with no limit on the number of pages they could purchase. Publishers are taking a "wait-and-see" attitude toward the Amazon program, but those quoted by Publishers Weekly were pleased that it respected copyrights.

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