THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, by Allan Bloom (Simon and Schuster, $18.95). Some books seem to come out of nowhere and sweep across the country's bookstores like a tsunami hitting a Pacific atoll. Until this past year Allan Bloom was best known for his scholarly translation, with commentary, of Plato's Republic. But his critique of liberal arts education, The Closing of the American Mind, was politically right for a period when educators pushed for a return to standards. So far it has sold some 450,000 copies, and is still doing well, reportedly making Professor Bloom a millionaire.
HIS WAY: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, by Kitty Kelley (Bantam, $21.95). "Unauthorized" is putting it mildly: This account of the long and checkered career of the self-styled "Chairman of the Board" was written in hydrochloric acid. To tell her story Kelley set aside the star-bio prose of her previous books and settled for a cool, distanced style that's exactly appropriate for her devastating material. After reading her account of Sinatra's sordid life and times, you'll need a strong stomach to listen to "The Voice" croon a love song.
A SEASON ON THE BRINK: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers, by John Feinstein (Macmillan, $16.95). Though the publishers expected good things from this book by Washington Post sportswriter John Feinstein, no one quite expected the best seller it turned out to be. The first printing was a modest 17,500. Four months later A Season on the Brink had sold nearly half a million copies. The book is a warts-and-all portrait of Bob Knight, the hard-driving, foul-mouthed Indiana University basketball coach..
FATHERHOOD, by Bill Cosby (Dolphin/Doubleday, $14.95). Here we have the most vivid proof imaginable that nothing sells books like television. Fatherhood, by the star of the tube's most popular show, rocketed to the top of the best-seller lists almost the instant it was published in the spring of 1986 and stayed there for weeks, rolling up enormous hardcover sales; it keeps right on going in paperback. The book is little more than a Cosby monologue, but as millions of Americans know there's no one funnier than Cosby.
SPYCATCHER, by Peter Wright with Paul Greengrass (Viking, $19.95). This autobiography by a retired "molehunter" of MI5 -- the British counterintelligence service -- was helped into best-sellerdom by the blustering of Prime Minister Thatcher's government. Wright breached security by scribbling down secrets and half-secrets (along with just-plain innuendoes) and getting them published here and in Australia. In Britain, however, the courts upheld a government ban. A furious debate over censorship then erupted. The author's most controversial allegation is that some members of the British secret services thought former prime minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet spy and that the former director-general of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, was a mole. People in the know say this is poppycock.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AMERICA, by Rick Smolan and David Cohen (Collins/Harper & Row, $39.95). "Dear Photographer," went the letter mailed to dozens of shooters, ". . . we want to position two hundred of the world's best photographers throughout America and give each photographer the same 24-hour period to capture a typical American day on film." Paid in Nikon cameras and Apple computers, the 200 photographers chosen shot almost a quarter of a million frames.
COMMUNION, by Whitley Strieber (Morrow, $17.95). Whitley Strieber received a $1 million advance to tell the story of how aliens visited his mountain cabin, took him aboard their vessel and inserted a needle into his brain. Although critics were skeptical, the author has received hundreds of calls and letters from people who claim similar experiences. Strieber plans a sequel that will document these testimonies.
CULTURAL LITERACY: What Every American Needs to Know, by E. D. Hirsch Jr. (Houghton Mifflin, $16.95). Although the title sounds like the name of college course, this book is actually the ultimate book of lists: Everything You Never Knew You Ought to Know. Hirsch, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, here provides lists of names, dates, places and ideas that he thinks all "culturally literate" Americans should know. He asserts that "reading skills" are worthless if the reader lacks appropriate background information. While Hirsch sees the list as open to modification, some critics felt that Hirsch's cultural frame of reference stopped in 1945.
THE FATAL SHORE, by Robert Hughes (Knopf, $24.95). Robert Hughes is a native Australian who has worked in the United States for years -- as an art critic -- but has never taken out American citizenship; too bad, for this precludes The Fatal Shore from consideration for every major American literary prize. Scholarly and popular, Hughes' book tells the story -- in prose that will shiver your timbers and break your heart -- of the involuntary settlement of Australia by British convicts.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION OF 1990: Why It's Got to Happen -- How to Protect Yourself, by Ravi Batra (Simon and Schuster, $17.95). Mainstream economists pooh-poohed Batra's fantasies of world-wide slump, and then what do you know? The stock market fell 508 points in one day. Can it really be that the great American, middle-class, post-World War II party is over? Who is to say? Certainly hundreds of thousands of readers hedged their bets by buying Batra's book -- presumably making him financially secure for life.