I'm a sucker for social history, but I read just about anything that catches my attention. I'll list the books I either find myself consulting often or giving away copies of because I want someone to discuss them with.
Without a doubt the trajectory of my life changed forever when I came across the "A History of Private Life" series edited by Georges Duby and Philippe Aries, though it really ought to be subtitled "starting with the western Mediterranean and further north when useful in ancient times gradually narrowing to a social history of modern France and Italy when that supports our case." Still, going from the chronological list of happenings way history was taught at school o looking at themes of the way people relate to each other was mind-blowing to the younger me. I can't stress enough how profoundly coming across this series changed me.
For friends who like long reads with tiny print and copious footnotes I've been pushing "At Day's Close: a History of Nighttime" at them for the last ten years or so just so I can have people to discuss it with! It's one of those books that entirely changes how you perceive the world.
My gift-to-everyone book of the long moment is "The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters." The title barely hints at the scope of this book which is one of those old-fashioned, Montaignesque, essays on the meaning of life and death through the prism of Homer with many unexpected meanders along the way. Seriously, everyone should read it, though I think young men will especially find it a re-assuring guide in a changing world.
When I want to relax I take Jane Grigson's cookery books, or sometimes Dorothy Hartley's "Food in England" to bed with me. They invoke the contented feeling of hanging out in the kitchen of a favourite great-aunt, and I'm not even English.
Speaking of which, I have reread "Family and Kinship in East London" so many times and recommended it to so many people. When I first went down to work in England it helped me make sense of how English suburban communities worked and how they got to be that way after WWII. A lot of things made more sense to me, even if I felt sad about the unintended consequences of the slum clearances.
A tiny, slender volume called, "Writing Technical Reports" by Bruce Cooper. I picked it up for 50p in a charity shop and it changed my life despite the age of the book. It got me over myself and made my report writing about the audience and not about showing off which makes for a terrible report. Had it not been for that book I doubt very much I would get even a quarter of the work I do because I was not pitching toward the people I needed to.
My now elderly Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Not only does it save me from falling down the internet rabbit hole when I just wanted to check out a word, but it has excellent sections on grammar, punctuation, usage, forms or address, etymology, abbreviations etc.
Since it's apposite, "A History of Contraception" by Angus McLaren It's exactly what it says on the cover, well researched and well pitched. I thought I knew a lot about the social history of family life until I read it but I had no idea just how varied practices and attitudes had been even in relatively modern history, nor just how varied, and at times advanced reproductive knowledge had been through time and space. It didn't change my general position but it gave me a lot of food for thought. Since I think an overview of the subject is badly needed by everyone I've given away more than twenty copies to friends and acquaintances including a few GPs who wished they'd come across a book looking at the social dimensions of regulating fertility sooner.
I'll fess up that I've given away copies of Graeber's "Debt: the first 5000 years" purely to have people to discuss it with. I don't agree with him on everything, that would be unnatural, but he's certainly asked some very hard questions about the nature of money itself. For this reason I find myself returning to various sections and following examples and sources. I've seen reviews that called it dense but I rattled through it in less than a week while doing all the other stuff I do day to day so I've not hesitated to give it to a broad range of people.
When I'm feeling sorry for myself I'll pick up Margaret Mead's "Growing Up in New Guinea" and thank my lucky stars I'm not a Manu woman of that era. It always cheers me up!
For sheer pleasure to re-visit, "The way that I went."