A Natural History of the Senses A Natural History of the Senses
Diane Ackerman
Vintage Books 1991

Diane Ackerman's lusciously written grand tour of the realm of the senses includes conversations with an iceberg in Antarctica and a professional nose in New York, along with dissertations on kisses and tattoos, sadistic cuisine and the music played by the planet Earth. "Delightful . . . gives the reader the richest possible feeling of the worlds the senses take in."--The New York Times.

Einstein's Dreams Einstein's Dreams
Alan Lightman
Warner Books 1993

A modern classic, Einstein’s Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar.

In Praise of Shadows In Praise of Shadows
Junichiro Tanizaki
Leete’s Island Books 1977

A delightful and insightful essay on aesthetics by the Japanese novelist, this book explores architecture, jade, food, and toilets, combining an acute sense of the use of space in buildings. The book includes descriptions of laquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure.

Invisible Cities Invisible Cities
Italo Calvino
Harcourt 1974

In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo - Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.

Landscape and Memory Landscape and Memory
Simon Schama
Vintage Books 1996

Schama ranges over continents and centuries to reveal psychic claims that human beings have made on nature. He tells of the Nazi cult of the primeval German forest; the play of Christian and pagan myth in Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers; and the duel between a monumental sculptor and a feminist gadfly on the slopes of Mount Rushmore. The result is a work of history, naturalism, mythology, and art.

Shop Class as Soulcraft Shop Class as Soulcraft
Matthew B. Crawford
Penguin Press 2009

On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a "knowledge worker," based on a separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind. He shows how such a partition, which began a century ago with the assembly line, degrades work for those on both sides of the divide. Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a call for self-reliance and a reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.

Species of Spaces Species of Spaces
Georges Perec
Penguin 1997

Georges Perec produced some of the most entertaining and spirited essays of his age. His literary output was amazingly varied in form and style and this generous selection of Perec's non-fictional work also demonstrates his characteristic lightness of touch, wry humor and accessibility. In Species of Spaces, Perec explores the spaces we inhabit, beginning with the most evident, the page itself on which he writes (and you read), and "zooming out" into ever grander scales: the apartment, the street, the city, the country, and the universe itself.

The Architecture of Happiness The Architecture of Happiness
Alain De Botton
Hamish Hamilton 2006

The Achitecture of Happiness is a journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the connection between our identities and our locations. One of the great but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kinds of walls, chairs, buildings, and streets that surround us. And yet a concern for architecture is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. Alain de Botton starts from the idea that where we are influences who we can be, and argues that it is architecture's task to stand as a reminder of our full potential.

The Little Prince The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Harcourt Brace & Company 1943

No story is more beloved by children and grown-ups alike than this wise, enchanting fable. The author reminisces about a day when his plane was forced down in the Sahara, a thousand miles from help. There he encountered a most extraordinary small-person. And thus begins the remarkable story of the Little Prince, whose strange history he learned in the days that followed. There are few stories that in some way, in some degree, change the world forever for their readers. This is one.

The Martian The Martian
Andy Weir
Broadway Books 2014

It's a romp of a science fiction thriller that leaves you, among other things, with a refreshed appreciation for the miracles of life on earth.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert Pirsig
Bantam 1974

Pirsig introduces and explores philosophical questions in ways casual readers have found highly engaging. He attempts to create a practical philosophy and sets the book against the background of actual experience to make his thinking real for the reader. Probably no book has ever been more successful in interesting people in philosophy. I read it over 40 years ago when it was assigned reading for an architecture class - and several times since.