Peggy Guggenheim by Francine Prose (Yale, $25). A thorough and empathetic examination of an extraordinary woman's life by a truly gifted writer. Prose is able to capture the emotional nuances of a very complicated person and also depict in great detail her incredible, unique contribution as a patron of the arts. She makes Guggenheim both glamorous and fragile.
The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25). No other writer has inspired me more. M.F.K. Fisher has an uncanny knack for taking something mundane and rendering it sublime. She salts her writing with good common sense and peppers it with a wicked wit.
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr (Penguin, $17). If any memoirist in this country tells you they haven't been influenced by The Liars' Club, they are either lying or uninformed. The genius of Karr's memoir is that it's really not about her, but about her parents, told with love and innocence while fearlessly illustrating their faults.
The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17). "Bud" Trillin of The New Yorker basically invented the genre of food-focused American travel writing. Part journalism, part travelogue, all funny and flavorful, The Tummy Trilogy can make you salivate over a humble bagel from New York's Russ & Daughters or a slice of pizza from, of all places, Kansas City. What Paul Bowles did for Africa, Trillin did for America's greasy spoons.
Fat Girl by Judith Moore (Plume, $14). Moore spares no detail in this raw and flayed look inside a young girl's insecurity, self-loathing, and selfishness. She is unflinching in her laser-sharp descriptions of food, body, heart, and loneliness.
From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman (Picador, $20). Tom Friedman's 1990 book opened my eyes to how politics a world away can have an enormous human cost. The author, drawing on his experiences as a reporter in Lebanon and Israel, made me understand — better than anything I could watch on TV or read in a newspaper — who the people on the ground there were, and how different and the same we all really are.
— Cookbook author and model Padma Lakshmi is the host of Top Chef, Bravo's long-running TV series. Her new memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate, is an account, seasoned with recipes, of her journey from an immigrant childhood to stardom.