Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. (Dover, $3). This slender volume transcends time, fashion, and scientific achievement — everything, in short, that feeds our illusion that we are evolving. Marcus' 2,000-year-old observations about our conceits, as well as his commonsense recommendations on the virtues of self-control, require no refrigeration, because they're still fresh.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. (Little, Brown, $9). Because it's all but impossible to remember exactly how we felt as teenagers, Salinger's portrait of a wiseass prep-school refugee roaming Manhattan should be as mandatory as an annual health exam. It may not create genuine understanding between generations, but it can remind an adult why his or her teenager doesn't care.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau, $24). An uneasy truce exists between black and white Americans: We avoid giving offense largely by not talking about how race alters lived experience. Coates takes that subject head on, explaining the nearly constant fear that still afflicts black Americans. This is an uncomfortable book, but brilliant and right on point.
The Dying Grass by William T. Vollmann (Viking, $55). In this novel about the 1877 clash between the U.S. Army and Nez Percé warriors who refused to give up tribal lands, Vollmann eschews standard punctuation and bounces dialogue among characters without so much as a "he said" to help his reader. But, my God, the man can write. If it's possible to craft an even-handed indictment of this nation, he has done it.
A Perfect Spy by John le Carré (Penguin, $16). I'm a sucker for Le Carré. He worked briefly in British intelligence, of course, and it's said that A Perfect Spy is partly autobiographical. Whatever its genesis, it offers mesmerizing insight into what compels a person to follow such a treacherous path.
The Horatio Hornblower Series by C.S. Forester (Back Bay, $15 each). If you don't like swashbuckling naval yarns, never mind. If you do, and you've never gone to sea with young Horatio Hornblower, the good news is that there are 11 volumes.
—Ted Koppel, the former anchor of Nightline, has won dozens of Emmys and several Peabody awards during his long career as a broadcast journalist. In his new book, Lights Out, he raises an alarm about America's vulnerability to cyberattacks.