If my apartment was on fire, the the first book I would grab would be "The Spectator Book of Imperative Cooking" by Digby Anderson, which is a collection of his articles on food published in The Spectator between 1984 and 1987. It's entertaining, merciless and incredibly bossy. I love it. He's all about cooking needing skill, discipline, hard work, and seeking good ingredients. It's been out of print for a while, but copies turn up on abebooks.com If ever I come home from a badly cooked meal, this is the book I turn to for comfort and strength.
From the chapter on Tapenade:
"The world of food is inhabited by two classes of person- Chaps and Girls. You can tell a Chap by the way he or she addresses the plate, alert and businesslike with a firm hand on the fork. Girls sit as if on a blunt drawing pin and shunt their food about. Chaps like well-hung woodcock with the guts left in, Provolone, French blood sausage, Provencal dishes of onions stuffed with garlic, eels, late season hot radishes, sheep's testicles fried in olive oil, Fernet Branca, ducks' eggs, Calabrian pasta with chillies, dumplings, the dark meats of crabs and Paan... Girls don't enjoy anything, except mild processed Cheddar, fluffy omelettes, Golden Delicious Apples... They leave things..." etc... he goes on from there.
A really wonderful book.
Although Bourdain's well known, I rarely see anyone mention A Cook's Tour (the book, not the show) which I liked even more than Kitchen Confidential. Maybe it covers the same ground as the TV show, but I wouldn't know since I don't get cable.
Another great book is Don't Try This at Home which features a whole bunch of famous chefs recounting their most memorable screw-ups and close-calls in the kitchen.
Here are some that I've enjoyed recently:
1. Food Politics, by Marion Nestle. About the politics behind govt food policies.
2. The Seasoning of a Chef, by Doug Psaltis. Excellent memoir about moving up the ranks from a scrub in a kitchen to a top chef.
3. Wife of the Chef by Courtney Febbroriello. Nice memoir by, well, the wife of a chef. The husband and wife team own a small bistro in Connecticut (if I remember). She works the front.
4. Love by the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. The best food/wine related book I've read in a long time. They are the husband-wife team who write the excellent Tastings column in the Wall Street Journal. The book is a memoir of their relationship, with tasting notes. Read the intro chapter and you will be hooked.
5. The Tummy Triology by Calvin Trilling. Funny read.
6. Adventures on the Wine Route, byt Kermit Lynch. An excellent inside view of the people who make the excellent wines Lynch inports.
7. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. A modern classic. I loved it.
8. Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser. I've come to despite Hesser's writing in the Times, but this is a nice memoir about her romance with her now-husband, a non-Foodie.
9. Turning the Tables by Steven Shaw. A nice read about restaurants by one of the founders of egullet.com.
See http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... for more ideas.
Near A Thousand Tables-Felipe Fernandez-Armesto:
I read it when it first was published; a great, concise, opinionated, anti-orthorexia history of food. It holds a place of honor in the small shelf space I have allotted to great food writing(Brillat-Savarin, Fisher, Tolbert, Reichl-as-editor, Wechsberg, and de Pomiane...and Bourdain, Child, Ruhlman). The rest, tho' quite beloved, most often reside in book boxes in the closet.
You don't see his book mentioned very often. He's approachable, academic, and, well, great.