Mechthild Gretsch, The Intellectual Foundations of the English Benedictine Reform.
(possibly the book of scholarship that has most inspired me in my life and the most learned, precise argument I have ever read in my field. I read it straight through twice the first time I picked it up. Never, in my opinion, has anyone done more to integrate disparate materials into a coherent and believable argument [though a lot of Lapidge's stuff comes close])
Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth.
(I had plans to write this book. I had an outline to write this book. Then I read it and discovered that Tom had written it ten years before I started the outline. And it was better than mine would have been. I was prepared to hate Tom for that. Then I met him and it was the opposite).
Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.
(Ward-Perkins manages to make a discussion of pottery shards (superficially the most boring subject in the history of earth) into a fascinating page-turner that proves a much larger points. I would give one of my various paired organs to be able to write like him).
The Three Most Inspirational Non-Medievalist Scholarly Books I Have Ever Read
Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype.
(Possibly the most beautifully constructed, long argument I have ever read).
Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
(A true synthesis of the kind I have always wanted to write, and an enormous pleasure to read. Like the other books on this list, I pick it up to find a quote and find that I am still reading it forty-five minutes later).
Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.
(Yes, I know that not all of Gould's claims have stood up. Yes, he contradicts himself within a span of eight pages at the end. Yes, he's wrong about Hallucigenia. Don't care. I remember sitting next to my aunt's pool in the summer of 1980 and feeling like the top of my head was coming off, this book was so inspiring).
I'm curious to know what books serve the same function for my colleagues.