Morose Prose: The Best-Selling Non-Fiction Books of 2000

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Fiction in 2000 may not have provided anything new for the new millennium, but non-fiction is keeping up with some really impressive ways of reviewing the last century. Whether investigating individual lives or national symbols, this year’s best sellers gave us the opportunity to see how far we’ve come.

5 Who Moved My Cheese?

This book about dealing with change became a surprising phenomenon, considering the fact that most of its messages are things we’ve all been told again and again. But maybe that’s precisely why it became so popular. It uses cute parables and simple statements and bullet points to verbalize obvious truths like “the world will inevitably keep changing” so that we can try to internalize the idea. Easier said than done, of course. But be careful if you plan to use this as a birthday present. A number of corporations who were in the process of restructuring have done it and, for some reason, employees found books about mice who cooperate with change to be more than a bit patronizing.

4 Tuesdays With Morrie

Yet another book chronicling the end of a life. Unlike Before I Say Goodbye, in this one Morrie Schwartz knows that he is leaving a book behind. He spends sixteen consecutive Tuesday afternoons sitting with his former student, Mitch Albom (the author), and discussing the meaning of life. Morrie died at the age of 79, so even though he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease he was old enough to talk about the experience of aging and so much of the book focuses on that especially as the disease sped up the process. But he does not spend time describing his situation, instead he gives advice. We hear through Mitch’s ears the wisdom he gets about how to face adversity gracefully, about what is important in life and about how to find the time for it. And from the hints that Mitch gives us about himself, it sounds like they’re lessons that he needs. They probably can’t hurt the rest of us either.

3 The Beatles Anthology

This is exactly what it claims to be: a collection of the Beatles. Not of their music, or their pictures, or facts. It combines all of those with anecdotes, documents, and first-person narrative that document the rise and fall of the Beatles Empire. Although the book is clearly meant as a coffee table book (it’s heavy!) it’s easy to read straight through without realizing it since it doesn’t play out as prose but rather as a conversation between the reader and four interesting people. For some reason, even those of us who sneer at people who follow celebrity drama can’t help being fascinating by some of the soap-opera behavior of the Beatles. Perhaps it’s because it feels more like history than any other band and less like straight-up gossip. At the end of the day, that may be what it is — but you know you want to hear it.

2 Before I Say Goodbye

If you were dying of breast cancer would your first instinct be to write about the experience? Probably not. But that’s what British journalist Ruth Picardie did and her last seven columns for the Observer magazine form the backbone to this book documenting the last year of her life. The columns are augmented by her correspondence with friends and family and by essays written by her husband and sister. If you’re looking for the ideal model of the selfless dying here, this isn’t it. Instead, Picardie spent her last year buying new clothes and makeup, or as she put it “finding my inner Shallow Fashion Bimbo before I die.” But she feels real and so the amount of humor that comes out even as things get worse makes you hope that when you’re time comes you can be so insightful, entertaining and eloquent.

1 Flags of Our Fathers

Any American can recognize the famous photograph of six men struggling to raise the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima. Although three of those men died in the same battle, the new symbolic status of the remaining men was recognized almost immediately and they were sent around the United States to fundraise. James Bradley, the co-author of Flags of Our Fathers, is the son of one of those men. After his father’s death he spent years researching the lives of all six WWII soldiers, from their childhoods to their deaths in battle or back home in the U.S. Not only does this give us the historical context of what became one of America’s most moving symbols of the war, it also describes a cross-section of “the Greatest Generation.”


Do you agree with our take on the top bestsellers at the turn of the millennium? If so, let’s hear it!

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