I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
I'm not sure how essential these are; keep in mind I'm not a fan of typical history. I'm more interested in the history of how people lived, rather than how they died, though the latter is arguably more important to humanity's future; if only we could learn from it. I'm also far more interested in natural history, so the following is an eclectic mix. Chris's Fish Place and Themis-Athena will undoubtably know they can cull whatever they deem to be less than a good fit.
Hiroshima - John Hersey: I was just reminded of this book, read during my university days. It left an indelible mark on my memory for a number of reasons, and it's one of those books that everyone, but everyone, should be made to read.
A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union - Rick Smolan,David Elliot Cohen: This might be cheating, as it's purely a book of photography, without any narrative to speak of. But the book captures the failed experiment that was the USSR, undeniably a huge shaper of history.
The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time - Keith Houston: A history of our collective obsession; from papyrus to perfect binding and everything in between.
A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions - Mark Forsyth: Frivolous, perhaps, but fun. A slim volume packed full of the history of Christmas.
The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland - Jim DeFede: This is not really the best written book; it's author's background in journalism is achingly obvious in this long form, but the substance completely overshadows the style. In the wake of people at their worst, this is the story of people at their very, very best.
Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies - Harold Holzer: This is a great read for the history-reluctant. It's not oversized, it's easy reading, and it humanises our greatest president.
One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson: Micro-history that illustrates how much the world can change in one small season, written in an engaging style that's also perfect for the history reluctant.
The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris - Tilar J. Mazzeo: I found this interesting, not for the famous people who lived at the Ritz during the war, but the story really came alive for me after the occupation of the hotel. How people not only coped but overcame is, to me, far more fascinating that battle plans.
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York - Deborah Blum: Aside from being relieved not to have lived in NYC during the Jazz Age, I thought this was also an interesting read about the establishment of forensic medicine in the US.
Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum - Richard Fortey: Not sure if this strictly fits or not, but it's a great read about the British Natural History museum.
The Illuminated Declaration of Independence - Thomas Jefferson: No explanation needed, I hope.
Butter: A Rich History - Elaine Khosrova: Don't laugh; it's a far more fascinating read than you'd think.
The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World - James Barron: So is this one, and I'm not really a fan of stamps.
Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat - Bee Wilson: I had one gripe about the author's ignorance about the US's adoption, and lack thereof, of the metric system, but otherwise, it's a fascinating look at why we eat the way we do, and how it's changed us even at a physiological level.
Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation - Judith Mackrell: Women getting it done with style.
Stephen Fry's Incomplete & Utter History of Classical Music - Tim Lihoreau,and Stephen Fry: An excellent overview.
Tea, Coffee & Chocolate: How We Fell in Love with Caffeine - Melanie King: for the caffeine addicts; how we got them and who we can thank for it.
At Home: A Short History of Private Life - Bill Bryson: A good introduction to one of the things we take for granted: our shelter. Also, if you were ambivalent about keeping the toilet seat lid down before you read this, you won't be afterwards.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot: A must read; Is there any single person in history who has saved more people and lingered more deeply in obscurity?
Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow: entertaining AND informative. Might make it hard to like Wagner's music, if you ever did.