How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I read this book long before I had kids—it’s incredibly helpful for interactions with adults as well. It’s definitely #1 on my list: a book that really changed my life.
How animals work, by Knut Schmidt-Nielsen. What can I say—this is cool stuff. Physics really works.
Low life, by Luc Sante. This one needs no introduction, I think. I happened to read it around when it came out–I’m not sure how I encountered it—and what struck me was its utter deadpan tone.
The honest rainmaker, by A. J. Liebling. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. Although it should probably be classified as fiction.
Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain. OK, it’s basically fiction too, also has some dead spots, but still has a great treatment of one of my favorite themes, which is that so much that seems permanent is not.
The last laugh, by Phil Berger. Doesn’t really belong in this list—it’s good, but probably not great—but it’s my favorite of the books I’ve finished lately.
That reminds me, by Tony Randall. No kidding. The only way this book could be improved would be to have some indicator of which of the stories are actually true.
Plagues and peoples, by William McNeill. Understanding history in terms of micro- and macro-parasitism. May seem obvious now, maybe could be updated, but as far as I know was pretty trailblazing. Full of fun facts.
The origins of the second world war, by A.J.P. Taylor. Compulsively readable, also seems (to this non-expert) to be full of insight.
Baseball’s greatest quotations, by Paul Dickson. OK, not really in the top 200 even, but I wanted to include something by this charming nonfiction writer.
Ball four, by Jim Bouton. This one really does belong on the list. (I’d also like to include the Bill James abstracts, but I’m not sure which ones to pick, and they have weaknesses as well as strengths. I’ll save them for my list of the best statistics books ever.)
The death and life of great American cities, by Jane Jacobs. OK, another classic–sorry, the list is getting less and less idiosyncratic.
Judgment under uncertainty: heuristics and biases, edited by Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky. An amazingly good book with an incredible quality level, especially considering it’s an edited volume.
The great war and modern memory, by Paul Fussell. After this one he got crankier and crankier, but this one is essential.
Also I have a soft spot for my own books, but due to lack of critical distance I’ll keep them off this list.