Best & Worst Books

6. A Hole in the World
Richard Rhodes
Rhodes, author of the National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, summoned the courage to tell the story of his childhood and the abuse he and his brother suffered at the hands of a tyrannical stepmother. It was a therapeutic exercise, accomplished with great artistry and a minimum of self-pity. A Hole in the World is a tale of sadism and cowardice, but also of survival, redemption, and brotherly love.

7. Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business
Fredric Dannen
As Dannen shows, the rock-music business has long glorified con artists such as Morris Levy and rewarded their thuggish behavior. He examines a group of independent record promoters (informally called ''The Network'') who controlled the airwaves in the late '70s and early '80s. Anyone who still believes that payola was an essentially innocuous element in getting music aired should read this book, the most revealing look yet at the ''characters'' who run the rock-music business.

8. Coyote Waits
Tony Hillerman
Hillerman's recent success hasn't gone to his head. He continues to write the same sort of gently impressive mystery fiction he has always written: a little slow, a little somber, yet gripping, too, thanks to the steady uncoiling of grim secrets, the constant tension between Navajo mysticism and contemporary American values. This, the 11th in his series about the Navajo Tribal Police, concerns the murder of a Navajo cop by an elderly shaman.

9. A Cloud on Sand
Gabriella De Ferrari
De Ferrari clearly doesn't know that a first novel is supposed to have something wrong with it. She has written an assured, quietly enthralling masterpiece. Set in Italy and South America in the period spanning the two World Wars, A Cloud on Sand tells the story of a tempestuous mother and her equally fierce and independent daughter.

10. Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Robert A. Caro
In this second installment of Caro's four-volume biography, Johnson emerges as ruthless, bitter, and conniving in his 1948 race against fellow Texan Coke Stevenson for the U.S. Senate. Disdain for a subject on the scale that Caro shows for LBJ can kill a biography. Yet, astonishingly, you never once think of quitting this 506-page book. Furious in pace and ravishing as entertainment, it is marred only by Caro's tendency to allegorize, with Johnson the perennial villain.

THE WORST

1. Any Woman's Blues
Erica Jong
Always adept at sniffing the zeitgeist, Jong ransacked the self-help books on the best-seller list and produced a novel that managed to combine the worst wisdom of Beyond Codependency and Women Who Love Too Much. Prose to match.

2. The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Black Woman
Shahrazad Ali
Although Ali's guide to the sins of black women (they are sloppy, insufficiently subordinate to black men, promiscuous, and in need of a good slap upside the head) sold well on street corners and in stores, its sentiments included enough unsupported generalizations about gender and race to qualify it as a textbook example of bigotry.

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