Rex Murfitt Creating And Planting Alpine Gardens — Fantastic, workable introduction to alpines, with adjustments for the unique challenges facing US growing conditions. Murfitt also co-wrote the excellent Creating And Planting Garden Troughs.
Roger Swain The Practical Gardener — Best overall gardening primer. Groundwork: A Gardener’s Ecology — Beautifully written. Earthly Pleasures — Collection, mostly, of his excellent magazine columns. Field Days — Ditto, never too much of a good thing.Note: Roger has a great illustrator, Abigail Rorer, helping him; makes best gardening drawings I’ve ever seen.
Ken Druse The Collector’s Garden — The “gold standard” on the subject. The Natural Shade Garden — Also one of the best.
Marina Schinz Visions Of Paradise — one of the all time great picture books, by a first rate artist and photographer, helped greatly with text by Susan Littlefield, published in the early eighties and still gorgeous as well as timely.
Brian Capon Botany For Gardeners — The best overview, including great articles on cell biology and genetics.
Julie Moir Messervey Contemplative Gardens — Groundbreaking classic on a poorly understood subject. Julie was a meteor on the scene in the late 80s and her work is still highly compelling. Outside the Not So Big House (with Sarah Susanka) – Originally designed and well-photographed coffee-table style overview of about a dozen garden and landscape architecture projects across the country, focusing on making the most of typically sized homes most serious gardeners own. Cutting edge insights that truly opened my mind to new ways of looking at my house and garden.
Mark Francis The Meaning Of Gardens — A strangely wonderful, fully satisfying trip into the mind of a philosopher/ naturalist/ landscape designer who bases his history, practice and theory on unusual gardens and landscapes in California and Scandanavia. One of the most fascinating books that few have heard of, and fewer have read. Top of my stack, most of the time. Like Schinz’s, about 25 years old and could’ve been written yesterday.
Maggie Keswick The Chinese Garden — Well written and thoroughly researched survey of a vast subject – the best of the bunch, and others are quite fine.
Emma Clark The Art Of The Islamic Garden — A lively survey of the entire panorama of this fantastic side of horticulture history. One of my favorites.
Karel Capek The Gardener’s Year – Wonderful journal-like chapters discussing the tasks, projects and pleasures taken by one of Czechoslovakia’s greatest and most celebrated writers and literary personages. Droll and informative observations, commentaries, fantasies and philosophical musings about all aspects of a working garden and nature-oriented household in the early 20th century. His brother Josef, a renowned illustrator, contributed witty and whimsical drawings. Capek possessed an inimitably friendly and engaging style.
Jeff Gilman The Truth About Garden Remedies – Comprehensive and well-researched analysis of homemade and “urban legend” plant pathology and pest cures. Well-organized and with a helpful bibliography, it demystifies many daunting problems related to everything from soils to deer, and offers many practical suggestions.
Ralph Snodsmith Tips From the Garden Hotline – An essential “Q & A” book by one of America’s great horticulturists, whose breadth of knowledge and experience is unmatched, especially when it comes to the northeast and midwest. Ralph also hosts a long-running, very popular call-in radio show on New York City’s WOR and syndicated nationwide.
Natural History related:
David Attenborough Life On Earth — Most of you probably own this, but if not, find it in an early edition. I bought it when it came out in the early 80′s, due to Attenborough’s TV charisma. A beautiful “legacy” book. He covers, literally, everything on the subject.
Gary Paul Nabhan Songbirds, Truffles And Wolves — One of the best books I’ve ever read on any subject, one of my favorite writers. He traces the walks of St. Francis through Italy, and much more. If you like Thoreau, you’ll love this.
Wade Davis Shadows In The Sun — Travel, philosophy and the sharp observations that have made him justly famous in one very lyrical book. My favorite of his. One River — Remarkable epic narrative of plant exploration up and down the Amazon. Also a moving reflection on the life of the river and the jungle. A big book, best read in hardcover.
Art and History Related:
William Weaver A Legacy Of Excellence: The Story Of The Villa I Tatti — The exquisitely written story of the renaissance scholar Bernard Berenson’s gem of an estate in Tuscany. Impeccably researched and beautifully illustrated. Great garden too.
A.A. Dornfeld “Hello Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!” – Rare glimpses and amusing anecdotes of mid 20th century Chicago newspaper reporting. The City News Bureau and the old Chicago dailies were the radicals of their day. Life was tougher and tighter in the news business before television. Chicago was a dynamic city that was filled with readers. Ernest Hemingway, Ben Hecht and Mike Royko started at the CNB, as did many lesser known novelists and journalists. It was a scribbler’s paradise and Dornfeld gives an elegiac view of their vagrant but inspired lives. Occasionally, you can still find a tough and witty style—The Beechwood Reporter in Chicago is a good example. Dornfeld’s granddaughter, Jennifer Stevenson, is an interesting writer too.
Bob Garfield Waking Up Screaming From the American Dream – A skilled commentator and media critic whose essays make it look easy. Also, very funny. Many people know his radio pieces on NPR. I think his writing is far better. Reminds me of Sidney J. Harris.
Linda Obst Hello, He Lied – An amusing and pithy book that came and went quickly a decade ago by the producer of ‘Contact’ and ‘Sleepless In Seattle’ as well as many other movies. Being hugely sentimental, I blow holes through Kleenex, and went through boxes during those two flicks. So when I saw she’d written a “guide” through the narrow halls of Hollywood, I took notice. Turns out to be one of the best business books I’ve ever read. Witty, talented and hardworking, she offers advice that’s helped me over the years.
Ryszard Kupuscinski Shah of Shahs, and The Emperor – The first is a portrait of the late Shah of Iran and the second of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, by one of the world’s greatest journalists. Perhaps curious to today’s readers, R.K. remains fresh, incisive and penetrating after more than 30 years. Interviews from a remote world.
W.J. Cash The Mind of the South – If you want to know what makes a southerner tick, read this milestone of history and social commentary from 1941. Marvelous insights that leave you shaking your head at how little you realized. Also, it’s written in an elegant and mannered style that has disappeared. Since half my family is from South Carolina – the “deep south” – it has always been a treasure to me.
Truman Capote A Christmas Memory – a charming yet mysterious evocation of the South; peculiar, distinctive, and utterly original. It’s sad that our media and movie industries focus on the author at the expense of his books, especially jewels like this, and the neglected novel that in my opinion showed his genius best, The Grass Harp.