What is the critical book for your hobby/passion?
March 15, 2016 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I find books that are considered to be the best or most complete or most highly regarded for their particular topic fascinating, regardless of what it is. I'm looking for these types of books for different hobbies or passions. I'm always looking to expand my interests. Basically I'm asking this question, but on a more recreational level.

Some Examples:
Burton Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street for investing.
Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf for the golf swing.
Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind for meditation.
posted by holmesian to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (89 answers total) 244 users marked this as a favorite
I can't imagine getting started in comics/cartooning without Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Making Comics.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:17 AM on March 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

Different Every Night: Putting the play on stage and keeping it fresh by Mike Alfreds is my favorite book on directing, since there aren't a lot of great books out there (in my opinion) for directors.
posted by xingcat at 7:27 AM on March 15, 2016

You may also be interested in this question ("Best books for teaching yourself a new skill?") where I recommended The Art of Kiltmaking by Barbara Tewksbury and Elsie Stuehmeyer; if you're looking to get into traditional kiltmaking it's pretty much the book.

If you're interested in learning how to play banjo as it was done in the 19th century, Briggs' Banjo Instructor of 1855 is still the best place (IMHO) to start for the early "stroke" style, followed by Frank Converse's New and Complete Method for the Banjo with or without a Master (1865, there are PDFs out there but I'm having trouble finding a working link at the moment) and Analytical Banjo Method (1886) which show the evolution of the "guitar style" that took over in the late 1800s-early 1900s. (Not to be confused with modern bluegrass.)
posted by usonian at 7:31 AM on March 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Stick and Rudder by Langewiesche for basic flying concepts.
On Food and Cooking by McGee for the science behind cooking. Probably The Joy of Cooking for pure volume of recipes.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:31 AM on March 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Be Dangerous on Rock Guitar has mostly been overshadowed by youtube, but it's still a great way to get started.
posted by mattamatic at 7:31 AM on March 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

The UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual. Note that it teaches one particular style of improv, and some improvisers prefer other styles -- but if you like UCB-style improv, this is far and away the best book on the subject.
posted by yankeefog at 7:49 AM on March 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking is good, but its hard to call it the most highly regarded cause there are many good references out there. This edition comes with a video that helps it seem like Tage Frid is your awesome Danish great-uncle.
posted by cubby at 7:51 AM on March 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

The Practical Beekeeper: by Michael Bush, for treatment free beekeeping.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:51 AM on March 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for canning recipes.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:55 AM on March 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning is a delight. People disagree with Amos' curmudgeonly statements all the time, and do lots of experimentation to prove it. I suspect that was his plan from the beginning.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:55 AM on March 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Tomoko Fuse - Unit Polyhedron Origami is great for anyone who wants to learn 3D paper folding techniques. It provides a good foundation for learning the 3D shapes before getting into the more complicated versions of kusudama.
posted by soelo at 7:56 AM on March 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.
The Airplane Flying Handbook.

A ton of other excellent aviation resources from the FAA.
posted by rippersid at 8:01 AM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Envisioning Information
Or, y'know, just about any Tufte book, but these two are the ones to start with, if you have any thoughts of working in informational design (and intend to do it right).
posted by Thorzdad at 8:03 AM on March 15, 2016 [23 favorites]

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking is the essential three book series in everything you need to know about the foundational techniques of working with wood. Considered the bible of woodworking.
posted by spicynuts at 8:06 AM on March 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

For trading and investing, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.

From wikipedia, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator is a 1923 roman à clef by American author Edwin Lefèvre which is the thinly disguised biography of Jesse Lauriston Livermore. The Wall Street Journal described the book as a "classic", it was ranked #15 on 'Fortune's 75 The Smartest Books We Know', and Alan Greenspan said it is "a font of investing wisdom."

I personally reread it once a year.
posted by AugustWest at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

The World Atlas of Wine.
posted by bassomatic at 8:24 AM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

For acting, I like "Audition", by Michael Shurtleff. Quick and entertaining read that I think will deepen your enjoyment of tv, film, and theatre-watching. Easy to find second-hand, too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:31 AM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Light on Yoga
posted by archimago at 8:31 AM on March 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Mushrooms and other Fungi of North America

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

May post a few more later; on a mobile phone so linking is tricky.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Camera by Ansel Adams.

His follow ups, The Negative, and the Print, are less essential in the digital photography ecosystem, but still teach a lot.
posted by dis_integration at 9:05 AM on March 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Keith Code's A Twist of the Wrist for how to ride and race a motorcycle on pavement.

John Bradley's The Racing Motorcycle: A Technical Guide for Constructors for how to engineer and build motorcycles that go fast on pavement. (Volume 2 is hard to find, but you can get them both here.)
posted by hackwolf at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Horses are Made to be Horses by Franz Mairinger. It's a classic, written from lectures given by an Australian/Vienniese riding master/Spanish riding instructor/ Olympic team trainer. It's full of the patience and caring for the equines and humans to create a beautiful relationship.
posted by mightshould at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

came in to add The Guitar Handbook, found it already here.

Very good choice. Forward by Robert Fripp. Lots of good quotes and insights. Great reference for music theory fundamentals.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2016

My two gardening bibles:

Barbara Damrosch's The Garden Primer, for every garden question.

And specifically for square foot gardening, of course this book. Though I note it has been updated.
posted by bearwife at 11:04 AM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough. Addresses more basic skills tha racing (cf. Keith Code, above) but still is the primer for anyone who has just learned, is still learning, or intends to continue learning.
posted by scratch at 11:50 AM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot Paperback – early, mid air cooled VWs

The Ashley Book of Knots - for work, hobby or kink

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence

Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Vision. Vol. 1&2 - annoyingly evangelical in vol 1, very good information
posted by ridgerunner at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann
posted by telegraph at 11:56 AM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Forgot: The Sidecar Manual, and the Sidecar Operator's Manual by Hal Kendall
posted by ridgerunner at 12:00 PM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Elizabeth Zimmerman for knitting.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2016

Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography lays down the principles that apply even in the digital world.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:16 PM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, in the area of word-nerdery you can't really beat the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. Mine's full of Post-Its and highlights.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:23 PM on March 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

Diet for a Small Planet
Recipes for a Small Planet

Excellent introduction to eating and cooking vegetarian if that is an alien landscape.
posted by Michele in California at 12:37 PM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

'The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread' by Peter Reinhart and 'Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza' by Ken Forkish
posted by tnai at 12:38 PM on March 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Drawing on the right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards for learning to draw realistically.
posted by cmoj at 1:17 PM on March 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit by Marinell Harriman is the book every seasoned house rabbit owner will recommend.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:25 PM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have trouble with Zimmerman's book, as in I generally can't follow her. I do love these two introduction to knitting books (softcover, not Kindle editions, as the illustrations are great).
posted by bearwife at 3:33 PM on March 15, 2016

There are a few but one of the definite classics is Killing Defence at Bridge.
posted by gaspode at 4:21 PM on March 15, 2016

Bread, by Jeffrey hamelman.
posted by smoke at 7:00 PM on March 15, 2016

Two for investors. How to Lie With Statistics. Teaches the layperson to spot the lies.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. How to recognize a financial bubble.
posted by Homer42 at 9:34 PM on March 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

This collection opens up computer science topics like no other:

The New Turing Omnibus: Sixty-Six Excursions in Computer Science Paperback – July 15, 1993
by A. K. Dewdney (Author)
posted by Chitownfats at 10:27 PM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Stolen Sharpie Revolution (1, 2) is the go-to for zinemaking and punk DIY culture.
posted by divabat at 3:44 AM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Ashley Book of Knots for ropework and knotmaking. Published in 1944, it is still considered the standard for knot enthusiasts. It also has incredible illustrations.
posted by epanalepsis at 7:42 AM on March 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Climbing: From Gym to Crag is the most comprehensive book for all of the newbie gym climbers who are interested in moving to climbing outside.
posted by Jaclyn at 11:48 AM on March 17, 2016

I really dislike the Stitch & Bitch knitting books, and EZ can be hard to follow as she was writing for a very different audience. The only knitting books I've kept are Deborah Newton's Measuring and Finishing books, and Sally Melville's Knitting Experience (Knit, Purl, and Color).

I have heard good things about June Hiatt's Principles of Knitting, but haven't had a chance to look at it.
posted by jlkr at 9:39 AM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew

There are lots of good books on making beer, but this is my go to when it's time for a new style.
posted by freakazoid at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

All That The Rain Promises and More and Mushrooms Demystified by Dave Arora are pretty much canon in the world of mycology.
posted by ghostpony at 10:32 AM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Organic Farming: Everything You Need to Know

I only have a small garden, but this book has lots of good ideas and is a fun read.
posted by freakazoid at 10:32 AM on March 19, 2016

Some of the highlights from my reference library:
Maritime Interest
The Marlinspike Sailor and The Arts of the Sailor
European Automobiles
Weber Carburetors Owners Workshop Manual
Theatre/Building Things
Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down
Understanding Wood
Backstage Handbook
Glover's Pocket Ref
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dorothy Burnham's Keep Me Warm One Night: Early Handweaving in Eastern Canada will show you pretty much everything you need to know about practical household weaving, especially overshot fabrics.

EJW Barber's Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean is an essential foundation to developing a modern understanding of spinning and weaving. I promise it is much more exciting than the title might indicate.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 8:33 PM on March 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


Rowing Faster by Volker Nolte
The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Rigging by Mike Davenport

These will set you up with a basic understanding of the mechanics of both humans and boats trying to go fast in one direction for 2,000m
posted by hepta at 10:22 PM on March 19, 2016

The Direction of Play by Takeo Kajiwara is the single best book I've ever read on playing the game of Go.
posted by 168 at 10:54 PM on March 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I learned a lot about game design from Characteristics of Games. I'm not sure it's where I would start (I started with Daniel Solis's blog), but it definitely expanded my brain.
posted by novalis_dt at 10:58 PM on March 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

How to Brew by John Palmer is the best introduction to brewing, in my opinion, because it not only covers the basics, but also prepares you for more advanced brewing. I got completely obsessed by brewing as soon as I started, and found the Complete Joy of Homebrewing limiting.

homebrewtalk.com is, as a whole, indispensable.

Greg Noonan's New Brewing Lager Beer is an alternative basic text, although not as basic, but just as crucial.

D.C.'s own Mike Tonsmeire's American Sour Beers is the first survey of its kind, and compulsory reading if you want to make those sort of beers.

The same goes for Stan Hieronymus' Brew Like a Monk for abbey-style beers.

And if you are thinking about starting a brewery of your own, Dick Cantwell's Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery, while a bit dated in some respects, covers all the questions you need to be asking yourself and others.
posted by oneironaut at 12:12 AM on March 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Climbing Anchors by John Long An excellent and very entertaining book on trad climbing, that had many of my climbing friends hooked from page 1.
I love how he found 1000 ways to describe "you're gonna die" if you place gear badly, or do other stupid things
posted by Thisandthat at 2:45 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

The authority on classical music is The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (also available online), but it's not exactly cheap. Much more affordable is The Harvard Dictionary of Music, which goes a long way as well.

For British folk ballads there's the 2,500 page collection of ballads collected by Francis James Child, known collectively as the The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. I don't know that they're all available today, but Amazon has quite a few volumes.

For jazz tunes there's the Real Book.
posted by teponaztli at 3:57 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Langford's Basic Photography is the classic photography primer though it's of more use to analogue/darkroom stuff.

There are many many terrible DSLR books, to the point where I often tell students to look stuff up on Youtube rather than buy overpriced tomes, Freeman's The Photographer's Eye is pretty nicely put together though.
posted by brilliantmistake at 5:06 AM on March 20, 2016

The World Atlas of Wine.

That's a great resource for knowing about wines in terms of history and culture.
For wine-tasting, more specifically: Luca Maroni's Method of Tasting (amazon).
posted by progosk at 8:11 AM on March 20, 2016

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot Paperback – early, mid air cooled VWs

Seconding this - a fantastic resource. With that book and a Bentley manual (which is less of a beginner's guide but contains a lot more details and useful photos), I once rebuilt an entire VW engine from scratch for my first time ever, and it ran like a champ. I never could have done it without both of those books.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:51 PM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Neil Williams's Aerobatics and more basic, Duane Cole's Roll Around a Point.
posted by bz at 2:19 PM on March 20, 2016

I would definitely say Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears - regardless of whether or not you can follow her instructions, EZ's books are incredibly influential and most of today's knitting approaches owe a lot to her.
posted by kariebookish at 3:18 PM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I tried to order Be Dangerous On Rock Guitar from mattamatic's link and was courteously informed by the author that it's no longer available. You can find it at Alibris.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:42 PM on March 21, 2016

For basic homebrewing Palmers "How to Brew" is the best out there right now.

For hunting (understanding the ethics) Jim Posewitz "Beyond Fair Chase"
posted by Seamus at 5:45 PM on March 21, 2016

The most highly regarded I guess is The Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual by Roger Simonoff. But as with any art, it's not a bible; there's plenty of other good information and experience to be had.
posted by transient at 12:44 AM on March 22, 2016

As a hobbiest illustrator and former animation student, the authoritative books tend to be very specific to fundamental sub-skills.

For Drawing: Glenn Vilppu's Drawing Manual and Andrew Loomis' Figure Drawing For All It's Worth.

For Illustration: James Gurneys' Color and Light and Imaginative Realism.

For Animation: Richard Williams The Animator's Survival Kit
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 12:56 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

The Sacred Harp 1991 edition (sometimes called the Denson book) is probably the most commonly used book in shape note singing. It includes a rudiments section that walks you through the basics of how to read and sing the shapes, as well as the songs themselves. That rudiments section plus a lot of YouTube viewing will get you a long way in learning the style, though going to singings is obviously preferable.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:47 PM on March 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

For a long time Colorado Rivers & Creeks was "The Bible" for Class III-V kayaking in Colorado. It's out of print, and in 2007 it was replaced by The New Testament.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:55 AM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Earth Manual -- Malcolm Margolin
posted by hank at 1:39 PM on March 25, 2016

The Certified Divers Handbook: The Complete Guide to Your Own Underwater Adventures, by Clay Coleman; for the recreational SCUBA diver.
posted by swlabr at 7:27 AM on March 26, 2016

- Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
- The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami
posted by Fizz at 7:47 AM on March 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Jargon File. Perhaps more important than a BS in CS for software engineering.
posted by panama joe at 8:26 AM on March 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Bentley VW Vanagon service/repair manual; I use it for my '82 diesel Westfalia.
posted by buzzman at 8:46 PM on March 27, 2016

Don't forget the seminal Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying! And for birders: Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds, which I can't seem to find online, expurgated or not.
posted by Snowishberlin at 11:29 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

For natural perfumery, Mandy Aftel's Essence and Alchemy.
posted by Lexica at 11:16 AM on April 1, 2016

The Curtis Creek Manifesto, on fly-fishing.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:51 AM on April 2, 2016

There's a host of possibilities for beginning/intermediate origami, but for advanced folding, there's only Origami Design Secrets.
posted by Quasirandom at 1:41 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mammal Tracks & Sign.
posted by scrubjay at 5:54 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Modern Pattern Design for making and altering sewing patterns (despite the fact that it hasn't been "modern" in terms of fashion since it was published in the 1940s). Link is to a pdf of the entire book.
posted by pangolin party at 12:06 PM on October 11, 2016

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