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DECEMBER 20, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 24

The Best Books of 1999


1 Personal Injuries Readers have come to expect something more than gripping plots from Scott Turow's legal thrillers, and this latest offers a mesmerizing main character. Robbie Feaver, a successful lawyer who has been caught bribing judges in Kindle County, becomes a pawn in an elaborate federal scheme to trap his beneficiaries on the bench. Along the way, Turow's suspenseful story deepens into a meditation on the nature of personal loyalties and the shady space between ethics and the law.

The Best (and Worst) of 1999
What will stick in the collective memory is the best and worst of our own fin de siècle, and 1999 had a bumper crop of winners and some memorable bummers as well


Macau: Macau's Big Gamble
The Portuguese colony's return to China will be a low-key affair. The real fireworks will begin when the new owners try to clean up the joint
Extended Interview: 'We Will Make the Triads Uncomfortable'
In his temporary government office, Macau Chief Executive-designate Edmund Ho spoke about the future of the territory with TIME

Japan: A Fairy-Tale Ending?
After years of waiting, Japan's royal-watchers are thrilled over hints that the Princess may be pregnant

2 A Dangerous Friend. By Ward Just A well-meaning American sociologist arrives in Vietnam in the mid-1960s on a quasi-official mission to help prop up the civil government. What follows is a small, tense drama that foreshadows the wartime tragedies that lie ahead. Knowing how reality turned out makes this fiction not a whit less engrossing or enlightening.

3 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. By J.K. Rowling The third installment of this phenomenally popular series takes its now teenage hero through another year of his education in the ways of wizardry. Once again, Harry must face a mortal threat, but not before he and his friends get into lively boarding-school scrapes. Children can't get enough of Harry, and neither can their parents.

4 Waiting. By Ha Jin A doctor in the Chinese army wants to divorce his wife, who lives back in his native village, and marry a nurse. Years and years pass, and the doctor gets no closer to his heart's desire. The author's gently comic rendering of this ordeal won him, deservedly, a 1999 U.S. National Book Award.

5 Ahab's Wife. By Sena Jeter Naslund While Melville's men were chasing whales in Moby Dick, what were the women up to? This novel's spirited heroine tells all and debunks the notion that 19th century American women were as "sweet and resigned" as Melville assumed.


1 Home Town This fond but completely unsentimental portrait of Northampton, Massachusetts captures the joys and the sheer human cussedness on daily display there. Tracy Kidder lives nearby, and he spent years listening to his neighbors and walking their streets. His book is an extraordinary feat of reporting and writing, a vivid reminder both of why so many Americans flee the small towns of their birth and why so many of them miss the sense of belonging that such places inspire.

2 Morgan. By Jean Strouse Regularly reviled as a ruthless predator, J.P. Morgan emerges in this well-researched biography as a shy and self-conscious titan who genuinely believed that his own financial interests were synonymous with his country's. A few times he was right. His road to wealth was paved with some surprisingly good intentions.

3 The Trust. By Susan Tifft and Alex S. Jones The Ochs-Sulzberger family has managed the New York Times for more than a century, generating both handsome profits and public trust. The combination is a tricky one, easily compromised, and this history looks at how it has been maintained and assesses the Times' transition toward the electronic brave new world.

4 Faster. By James Gleick Those who wonder why they never seem to have the leisure to sit back and smell the roses will find plenty of reasons in this lively, irreverent primer on contemporary life. Gleick examines how we became infected with "hurry sickness" and points out that such innovations as cell phones, microwave ovens and the Internet only exacerbate the symptoms. Once a task has been speeded up, going back is hard to do. Try dialing a phone number.

5 The Big Test. By Nicholas Lemann Each year, the Scholastic Assessment Test determines where hundreds of thousands of U.S. high school seniors will go to college. Lemann shows how this process developed and casts a gimlet eye on the concentration of so much power in so few hands. Is this any way to run a meritocracy?


'Tis: What a pity he didn't quit while he was ahead. Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes won legions of fans and rendered a sequel inevitable. 'Tis has indeed become another best seller, but in recounting his 1959 departure from Ireland and his new life in Manhattan, McCourt somehow lost his sense of humor. Whine, whine, whine.

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Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN


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COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

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TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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