An annotated list of books–fiction and non-fiction, some strictly reference and others with a plot, and not exhaustive by any means–that have become important to me over the years. I go back to these time after time.
Books on Writing and Reference Books
Orson Scott Card. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Essential for any beginning science fiction writer.
Bryan A. Garner. A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. Absolutely essential for writers. The natural successor to Fowler’s book.
Oakley Hall. How Fiction Works. The best book on writing I’ve found. Succinct and easily readable.
Elmore Leonard. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. It’ll take you five minutes (maybe less) to read the entire book.
Princeton Language Institute. Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, 3rd Edition. The most detailed thesaurus I’ve ever seen.
William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. If you do any writing at all, you’ve got to have this book. They’ve made the essence of English composition so simple.
Lynne Truss. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. (Yes, that’s how it’s punctuated.) A humorous and easily readable book on punctuation. You gotta read it.
Steven E. Ambrose. Undaunted Courage–Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. I had a relative on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and this is the best history I’ve found.
Dee Brown. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. From Columbus to Wounded Knee, the best overall history of the US campaign against native Americans.
Rachel Carson. Silent Spring. Out of date now, but vitally important in the beginning of the environmental movement.
Neil F. Comins. The Hazards of Space Travel. An excellent summary of everything that can go wrong during space travel. Good reference.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau. The Living Sea (with James Dugan). Cousteau has other books about the sea, but this is one of the best.
Brian Greene. The Fabric of the Cosmos. I’m not listing any of Stephen Hawking’s books because I find Greene’s book to be much more detailed and better explained.
David Halberstam. The Powers That Be. An eye-opening book about how media moguls have manipulated the news over the years.
Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs. Jonas Salk, A Life. As a virologist, this was a must-read book for me, but the book is written so that anyone, even without any knowledge of virology, can understand it. Jonas Salk did a lot for our civilization and it’s important we understand what he did.
Michio Kaku. Physics of the Impossible. Its name says it all. Good for science fiction writers.
Joseph Wood Krutch. Voice of the Desert–A Naturalist’s Interpretation, and Grand Canyon. Krutch is my favorite naturalist/philosopher. Voice of the Desert is way out of date, but his writing style and environmental voice are still relevant today.
Franz Lanting. Eye To Eye. Up close with all sorts of eyeballs in the animal kingdom. I’ve used this in writing.
T. E. Lawrence. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Oh, go ahead and read it.
Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac. One of the first, and still the most important book of the environmental movement. A must read.
Willy Ley. Rockets, Missiles, and Men in Space. Ley’s had several earlier editions of this book (with increasingly longer titles), and it’s out of date now, but it’s a fascinating history of rockets and missiles, and how they led to space travel.
Harvey Manning. Backpacking One Step at a Time. If you ever want to go backpacking, this is the book to read. Before you go, that is.
Mary Roach. Packing for Mars. Everything you wanted to know (and some you didn’t) about living in outer space.
Frank Rowsome, Jr. The Verse by the Side of the Road. The story of the Burma-Shave signs. A real fun book to read.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. A Thousand Days. The definitive history of JFK’s three years as President, written by someone who was with him all the way.
William L. Shirer. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Early, and still the best history of Hitler’s Germany.
Hampton Sides. Blood and Thunder. The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West. The title’s a bit overdone, but the book’s a good read of the life of Kit Carson, as well as other important figures in the indian wars of the American southwest.
Rebecca Skloot. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Cells were taken from Ms. Lacks cancerous cervix in 1951 and grown in culture. They became HeLa, the first continuous cell line in the world. It still exists today. I’ve used those cells for research and clinical applications. I found it fascinating to finally find out exactly how this cell line was developed.
Time/Life Books. The American Wilderness. Twenty-seven books by various authors of most of the wilderness areas in the US.
Tom Wolfe. The Right Stuff. I love Wolfe’s style of writing. And it’s a good history of the manned space program up through the Mercury program.
Fiction – Novels and “Short Stories”
Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Good sci-fi doesn’t have to be all war and killing and death and stuff. It can actually be humorous. There are four sequels, too.
Rudolfo Anaya. Bless Me, Ultima. The definitive novel about the New Mexico Chicano culture.
Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale. A chilling look at the future of a highly conservative society where women are dehumanized and used as baby factories.
Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury has other books, and they’re all good, but this is my favorite. Unique voice, too.
Willa Cather. Death Comes for the Archbishop. A fictional telling of the life of archbishop Lamy of Santa Fe. One of the classics of American literature. I wish I could write this well.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I don’t usually read detective fiction, but I’ve read this completely through at least twice.
Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Fascinating look at the world to come.
Joe Haldeman. The Forever War. Excellent discussion of war of the future.
Robert Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, “–And He Built a Crooked House–” One of my favorite sci-fi authors.
Ernest Hemingway. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, and The Old Man and the Sea. Some of the best Hemingway.
Frank Herbert. Dune. The sci-fi novel to which all others are compared.
Walt Kelly. Any of his books which are compilations of his “Pogo” comic strip. I Go Pogo, The Pogo Papers, G. O. Fizzickle Pogo, and others. My all time favorite comic strip. Except for “Peanuts,” nothing else came close.
Kristin Landon. The Hidden Worlds and The Cold Minds. I learned to put more emotion in my writing by reading Landon.
Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird. In our day of racism and bigotry, whether blatant, subtle, or masked, this is still an important read. Pulitzer Prize in 1961.
Ursula K. LeGuin. A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Telling. I’ve come to admire her fabulous skill in telling a story.
C. S. Lewis. Out of the Silent Planet. The first of a trilogy, and the best of the three.
Jack London. The Call of the Wild, and White Fang. His best two.
Cormac McCarthy. The Road. Extremely dark, almost sinister, but an important read if you want to know what life will be like after the apocalypse. This could happen, given the right circumstances. Pulitzer Prize in 2007.
Herman Melville. Billy Budd, and Moby Dick. Two of Melville’s best. Some call Moby Dick the Great American Novel. Make up your own mind, but read it anyway.
James A. Michener. Tales of the South Pacific. Engrossing tales of Nellie Forbush, Emile De Becque, and others based on Michener’s experiences in the South Pacific during WWII. Pulitzer Prize in 1948.
Audrey Niffenegger. The Time Traveler’s Wife. I consider this to be sci-fi, though many do not.
Tea Obreht. The Tiger’s Wife. An excellent first novel. A must read.
Marilynne Robinson. Gilead. A sensitive portrayal of the relationship of a minister with his grandson. Pulitzer Prize in 2005.
William Shakespeare. Julius Caesar. Of all Shakespeare’s works, this is my favorite.
Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Treasure Island. Two of my all-time favorites. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Jekyll and Hyde.
John Kennedy Toole. A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s hard to describe this book but I don’t hesitate to state that it’s a masterpiece. An excellent reference if you’re interested in character studies. Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 even though the author committed suicide in 1969 despondent over his inability to get it published.
Jules Verne. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in Eighty Days. I read these only just recently, but they’ve become favorites already.
Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s hard to summarize this book in a few words. You have to read it.
Andy Weir. The Martian. Wonderful book. Full of good imagery and plot twists.
H. G. Wells. The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Wells’s best, and still good reading a century after they were written.
T. H. White. The Once and Future King. The King Arthur saga told in modern-day English. A fascinating read.
Thorton Wilder. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I first read this book in high school and didn’t understand it. Now I do. Pulitzer Prize in 1928.
Connie Willis. Blackout and All Clear. A duo of time-travel books about the Battle of Britian. Both fascinating for the effortless flow of the writing and the tremendous research Willis did for the books.
Herman Wouk. The Caine Mutiny. I’ve never read a book that was so good, as some say, “I couldn’t put it down.” But this came as close as any. Pulitzer Prize in 1952.
Elinor Wylie. The Venetian Glass Nephew. A character study that has some fantasy/sci-fi elements, but written long before that style was fashionable. I love her evocative writing.