Recently I was asked for a list of recommended books in all genres. Following is that list, consisting only of books I've read personally that I would highly recommend.
- Stephen King—It, The Stand, & Salem's Lot
I believe King will be seen as the late 20th century's Dickens about 100 years from now, & these 3 are among his absolute best.
- Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan—The Strain & The Fall
Parts 1 & 2 of a vampire trilogy unlike any other; VERY tense & cinematic. Part 3 isn't out yet.
- Charlie Huston—Already Dead
A slam-bang vampire noir, funny and horrifying violent, full of clever characters and page-turning action. Followed by 4 sequels that finished the story. Great stuff!
- Clive Barker—Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three
2/3 of these stories were scary or disturbing—really scary or disturbing—& 1/3 were crap. Not a bad ratio, really.
- Kim Newman—Anno Dracula
What if Dracula had won & defeated Van Helsing? And it goes from there.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Philip K. Dick—Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Time Out of Joint, Martian Time-Slip, A Scanner Darkly, & Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
One of the greatest science fiction authors ever, whose books have been turned into Blade Runner, Minority Report, & Total Recall. Mind-bending stories about reality, perception, & madness.
- Neal Stephenson—Snow Crash
Wow! Audaciously brillant, for starters … & then it gets better.
- William Gibson—Neuromancer
Coined the term "cyberspace" & invented cyberpunk. Along with Snow Crash, brought sci-fi into the computer age.
- Jack Finney—About Time: Twelve Stories
12 wonderful stories, all about time travel in some way. Delightful.
- J.R.R. Tolkien—The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, & The Return of the King
If you haven't read these, you must not love to read.
- Orson Scott Card—Ender's Game
Won every major award for sci-fi, & it's easy to see why. Great story, interesting characters, & thoughtful to boot.
Biography & Autobiography
- Terry Teachout—Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
Excellent biography of an amazing artist and man.
- Richard Hack—Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters: The Definitive Biography of the First American Billionaire
Engrossing biography of an endlessly fascinating, though deeply flawed man.
- Ross Russell—Bird Lives!: The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie Yardbird Parker
Excellent bio of one of the central figures in jazz.
- Steve Wozniak with Gina Smith—iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I invented the personal computer, co-founded Apple, and had fun doing it
An easy-to-read autobiography by one of the obvious geniuses of the computer age.
- Alan Deutschman—The Second Coming of Steve Jobs
Quick, easy read about a brilliant pain in the ass who changed the world.
- Gerry Conlon—In the Name of the Father
Charged with a terrible crime he didn't commit & imprisoned for years in British prisons. The story of his arrest, trial, conviction, imprisonment, and release.
- Caroline Alexander—The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
One of the greatest tales of human endurance & heroism in the history of our species.
- Heather Rogers—Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage
Insightful critique of capitalism's creation of garbage that will leave you very disturbed.
- Paco Underhill—Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping
A clever, interesting look into a subject I had not considered.
- Bruce Schneier—Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security In An Uncertain World
The best book I've seen about thinking about security. Not technical at all; in fact, this should be mandatory reading for all Americans.
- Donald Norman—The Psychology of Everyday Things
Why are things designed the way they are? How could they be made better?
- James Wilson—The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America
A sad, informative, distressing story that revealed areas of history I'd didn't know.
- Shelby Foote—The Civil War: A Narrative
A 3-volume history of the Civil War that approaches 3000 pages that is also one of the best works of history ever written. Foote was a novelist, and it shows—his Civil War moves with a narrative & purpose that never flags.
- Charles Downer Hazen—The French Revolution, vol. 1 & 2
More history, this one dating from 1932, that reads like a novel. Excellent.
- Jared Diamond—Guns, Germs, And Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
A fascinating, wide-ranging, thoroughly-researched explanation for some of the most important questions in human history, like "Why do some societies utterly collapse?"
- Bill Bryson—A Short History of Nearly Everything
Absolutely wonderful. It made me want to learn more about science, which tells you it's done its job.
- Dean King—Skeletons on the Zahara
An amazing true tale of harrowing adventure, death, & redemption.
- Joachim Fest—Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich
An excellent, brief overview of nihilism in power.
- Jacques Barzun—From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present
Brilliantly argued, with new insights on every page.
- Antony Beevor—Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943
One of those stories that makes you glad to be reading it while you're warm, safe, & comfortable.
- Stewart O'Nan—The Circus Fire
A gripping retelling of one of the worst disasters in American history, by someone who was there as a child.
- Nathaniel Philbrick—In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
Moby Dick was based on a true story, and this is that story, but what happened to those men is much worse that you might think.
- Richard Reeves—President Nixon: Alone in the White House
The final Shakespearian days of the weirdest presidency America has ever seen.
- Sebastian Junger—The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea
It became a pretty darn good movie, but the book will grab you & not let go.
- Howard Zinn—A People's History of the United States
The stuff you should have been taught in school but weren't.
History of Technology
- Michael Hiltzik—Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age
An excellent history of a vital, fascinating, amazingly inventive group of people in a corporation that didn't know what to do with them.
- Tom Standage—The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers
Everything they're saying about the Internet now, they said about the telegraph 150 years ago!
- Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon—Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet
How the Internet was created. A bit techie, but well explained.
- David Foster Wallace—A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments
With the exception of the 2nd essay, which was too much a product of academia, these were insightful, funny, & amazingly well-written. Especially read the title essay & the one about the Iowa State Fair—both are hilarious & you'll learn a lot.
- Alan Moore—Watchmen
Simply THE greatest graphic novel of all time. A must-read.
- Alan Moore—The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen & The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2
A lively steampunk gathering of some of the greatest heroes—and villains—in literature. Not for children. At all.
- Neil Gaiman—Sandman, Volumes 1-12
Along with Alan Moore, the greatest graphic novels of all time. Also a must-read.
- Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, & John Beatty—Batman: Vampire
Scary, tragic, inventive stuff.
- Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata—Death Note, Volume 1-12
What if you had a notebook, and if you wrote a person's name in that notebook, they dropped dead minutes later? What would you do?
- Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, & Andrew Currie—The Ultimates Vol. 1 & 2
The Avengers, but re-case in the Ultimate Marvel universe. Really good, but volume 3 sucks.
- Marv Wolfman and George Perez—Crisis on Infinite Earths
A damn good graphic novel epic in the DC universe.
- Frank Miller—Sin City
The hardest of the hard boiled.
- Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell—From Hell
Jack the Ripper, solved. It's a crazy theory that I find ludicrous, but the story grabs you & never lets up.
- Ernest Hemingway—The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, & In Our Time
One of the greatest stylists in American Literature, with the style at its best completely serving the stories & emotions of those stories.
- Mark Twain—The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Two of the greatest books in English, with Huck Finn being near the top. ESSENTIAL.
- Umberto Eco—The Name of the Rose
The movie was excellent, but the book—a murder mystery set in a medieval monastery—is even better.
- Iain Pears—The Dream of Scipio
3 men, 1000 years, 3 ages of creeping barbarism. One of the finest-written novels I've ever read.
- James Ellroy—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, & L.A. Confidential
A powerful trilogy about corruption, crime, decadence, & the worse in human nature set in post-war L.A.
- Larry McMurtry—Lonesome Dove
A huge novel with characters you love and something quotable on every single page.
- Louis Sachar—Holes
A wonderful, magical, absorbing, beautifully-plotted book, suitable for adults as well as children.
- Philip Pullman—The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, & The Amber Spyglass
Kicks the crap out of Harry Potter. And beautifully written too!