Hugh Thomas was chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies under Margaret Thatcher from 1966 to 1979, and has written several books chronicling historical events. A recently revised version of his book The Spanish Civil War (Modern Library, $25) was released last year.
The Oxford Book of English Verse edited by Christopher Ricks (Oxford University Press, $40). I include this because I believe that English verse is the glory of our literature and I never tire of reading these poems. Other countries may have had brief eras of glory (Italy in the days of Dante and then Petrarch, France in the time of Baudelaire and Rimbaud), but for a long era of continued excellence Britain/England has no rivals.
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Abridged) by Edward Gibbon (Penguin USA, $15). This book is both learned and wonderfully written. The irony and wit inspire me.
Critical and Historical Essays by Thomas MacAulay (out of print). Though less elegant than Gibbon, MacAulay is a master of prose style, and this book, in a variety of ways, tells us what we need to know of English history from 1688 till, say, 1834.
Celestine by Fernando De Rojas (Boydell and Brewer, $60). This brilliant early novel/play is a reminder of the sharpness and wit of late medieval Spain, expressed by the wicked tongue of the old prostitute or madame whose name is the title.
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (Viking Press, $10). What a work of intuition and understanding! The prose is of the highest quality.
Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac (Viking Press, $14). It is now many years since I read this masterpiece, but I was immensely impressed with the picture it paints of a society between feudalism and bourgeoisie.