The well-read followers of Ezra Klein recommend the best books you've never heard of.
The recommendations were pretty interesting.
A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, a bread-and-butter book which documents the results of research by Alexander and his team at UC Berkeley on the right shapes and dimensions for everything architectural, from rooms (“Bed Alcove”) to city boundaries (“City-Country Fingers”). It's solid empirical work and it does a lot to demystify the practice of architecture.
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi gets my vote for best architecture book.
Louis Menand “The Metaphysical Club” is a good one…it's intellectual history with a connection to politics…it won Pulitzer so I'm not sure how unknown it is, but I find few outside the academy have heard of it.
One more great book, though it too can be connected to politics: Joseph Singer's “The Edges of the Field.” It does two remarkable things, in just over 100 pages: it offers a profound critique of the individualist/libertarian popular notion of property rights as absolute and lexically prior to government…and it provides a lovely discussion of how most of the world's faith traditions contain within them notions of communitarian economic justice.
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall is one of the best books ever written on sailboat racing/ obsession.
Scott McCloud's “Understanding Comics” is the best book ever written about the comic book medium — about how it works and how we translate a string of pictures into an illusion of time passing.
If there's been a better book written about evolution and extinction than David Quammen's “The Song of the Dodo,” I don't know what it is. Hell, it's one of the three or four best nonfiction books I've ever read. (FS: I loved this book).
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, by Leonard Mlodinow. A book about probability and statistics that is written in a very entertaining manner, with interesting examples of real world paradoxes and interesting applications.
Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how it changed America, by John M. Barry
The Prize by Daniel Yergin, twenty years old and still the definitive book on the oil industry.
The Power of Productivity by William Lewis. Best book I have ever read.
Theory of information – Grammatical Man, by Jeremy Campbell
“How to Brew” by John Palmer. Its a comprehensive practical book about how to make beer, and the science that enables it.
The Guns of August by Barbra Tuchman is still a defintive study not just of the beginnings of WW I, but of how all wars begin.
Life of Pi is a fiction book, but it clearly discusses human and animal nature. One of the most important lessons from the book is that animals do not think like humans; they have their own needs and desires — you can't impose human thought patterns on animals.
Punk rock history: Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil.
I would also like to put in a word for “Emerson: the Mind on Fire” by Robert D. Richardson, as one of the best and most vivid books I have every read.