The most recommended books about the English language

Who picked these books? Meet our 50 experts.

50 authors created a book list connected to the English language, and here are their favorite English language books.
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Book cover of Writing the Natural Way: Turn the Task of Writing Into the Joy of Writing

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer Author Of Writing Through the Muck: Finding Self and Story for Personal Growth, Healing, and Transcendence

From my list on to get you writing.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a published author with an MFA in Writing, I know how hard writing can be in terms of how to find a muse, employ an elusive craft, and deal with the soul-shaking consequences of digging deep. But as a survivor of life, including multiple moves, broken relationships, alcoholism, illness, and debilitating grief, I've also experienced the transformative power of writing. I took that belief into the community, and developed writing workshops for cancer survivors, women facing domestic violence, and many other people wrestling with trauma and illness, often recommending some of these books in my workshops. And along the way, I’ve witnessed time and again what the written word can do. 

G.'s book list on to get you writing

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer Why did G. love this book?

Writing professor Gabriele Rico knows how to take the fear out of writing, which is why this book became such a powerful best-seller and why I love to read and recommend it. Among the many strategies and techniques she offers in Writing the Natural Way, one of my favorites is her brainstorming strategy called clustering, which gives us permission to wander and bypass the critical censorship we are often hindered by. In turn, this fuels creativity and prompts us to make associations among ideas, memories, and feelings that are otherwise seemingly diverse or disorganized. She also firmly believes that, although writing can be a painful process, it’s not what hurts us that matters but rather it’s how we deal with the pain, and it’s through an honest expression of our truth that we can grow and heal.

By Gabriele Lusser Rico,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing the Natural Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shows all writers how effective writing can be as natural as telling a story to a friend, and as easy as daydreaming.

Book cover of The Synonym Finder

Cara Bristol Author Of Naughty Words for Nice Writers: A Romance Novel Thesaurus

From my list on reference and writing for romance authors.

Why am I passionate about this?

After writing more than sixty romance novels, I can sometimes find myself at a loss for words, unable to think of the right word or find myself using the same ones. Having a good thesaurus is invaluable. I use my own thesaurus, Naughty Words for Nice Writers, all the time. I wrote it as a survival guide—it was the book I needed that didn’t exist when I started writing romance. Besides Naughty Words, the thesauri/reference books I’m recommending are tools I couldn’t live without. 

Cara's book list on reference and writing for romance authors

Cara Bristol Why did Cara love this book?

If you want a general thesaurus, I believe The Synonym Finder with more than 1 million synonyms is the best one on the market.

I’ve used it for more than 30 years and had to replace my original copy because it was so well-used, it fell apart. What makes this thesaurus stand out is the quality of synonyms and the ease of use. It is super easy to find the words you’re looking for. Every author should have this book!

By J.I. Rodale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Synonym Finder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a simple alphabetical arrangement this book has been expanded to include thousands of new words and expressions that have entered the language in recent years, and includes clearly labelled slang and informal words and expressions.

Book cover of The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation

Iris Idelson-Shein Author Of Between the Bridge and the Barricade: Jewish Translation in Early Modern Europe

From my list on translation and culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been studying Jewish translation for over a decade now. I’m fascinated with the way translation enables dialogue between different languages and cultures without eliminating the differences that make such dialogue worthwhile. Most of my work has been dedicated to translation between Christians and Jews, but I’m also interested in the ways in which translation functioned (and continues to function) within Jewish culture as a means of conversation between different communities, classes, genders, and generations. 

Iris' book list on translation and culture

Iris Idelson-Shein Why did Iris love this book?

If I had to name one book that is almost the exact opposite of Toury’s, it is this one. Venuti’s book is the rare kind of scholarly book one reads over one or two sittings. It is angry, provocative, polemical, and just pure fun.

For Venuti, there is no separating fact from value, and whether it plans to or not, translation (and scholarship on translation) affects change in both text and world—often for the worst. If Toury’s book emulated scientific discourse, Venuti’s reads like a crossover between a political manifesto and a crime novel. Translation is a violent business, shrouded in suspicion and hidden agendas, that need to be exposed through symptomatic readings and critical analyses.

The book ends with a passionate call to action enlisting translators—despite the risks entailed therein—to develop new methodologies that will, as Venuti writes: “make a difference, not only at home [. . .] but…

By Lawrence Venuti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Translator's Invisibility as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since publication over twenty years ago, The Translator's Invisibility has provoked debate and controversy within the field of translation and become a classic text. Providing a fascinating account of the history of translation from the seventeenth century to the present day, Venuti shows how fluency prevailed over other translation strategies to shape the canon of foreign literatures in English and investigates the cultural consequences of the receptor values which were simultaneously inscribed and masked in foreign texts during this period. Reissued with a new introduction, in which the author provides a clear, detailed account of key concepts and arguments in…

Book cover of Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous

James E. Crisp Author Of Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution

From my list on history books written from hidden, elusive, and mysterious sources.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am passionate about bringing back to life persons from the past who have been forgotten, misunderstood, or even deliberately mischaracterized. In order to get to the truth, there are a host of myths that must be shattered or discarded. Most of the histories that I have written have done precisely this–showing the fallacy of familiar myths and discovering the hidden truths about people and events that have been distorted, often by some of the most popular literature. In order to achieve these results, I have had to spend years in “boring” archives in order to reveal people and events that are never boring.

James' book list on history books written from hidden, elusive, and mysterious sources

James E. Crisp Why did James love this book?

I was fascinated by Foster’s detective work in literary history–searching for the actual authors of poems, political novels, and proclamations, the authors of which had always been considered “anonymous.” Using a variety of ingenious methods, Foster tracks down the persons behind mysterious documents ranging from the Unabomber’s threats to “The Night Before Christmas.”

I loved Foster’s wry and sometimes caustic sense of humor, especially when he is skewering the “experts” whom he proves to be wrong. This book is, quite simply, great fun for the intellectually curious.

By Don Foster,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Author Unknown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the professor who invented literary forensics--and fingered Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors--comes the inside story of how he solves his most challenging cases

Don Foster is the world's first literary detective. Realizing that everyone's use of language is as distinctive as his or her DNA, Foster developed a revolutionary methodology for identifying the writer behind almost any anonymous document. Now, in this enthralling book, he explains his techniques and invites readers to sit by his side as he searches a mysterious text for the clues that whisper the author's name.
Foster's unique skills first came to…

Book cover of Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language

Lisabeth Posthuma Author Of Baby and Solo

From Lisabeth's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Creator Pop Culture Enthusiast Wordle Expert Mid-Century Fashion Obsessive Heterochromatic

Lisabeth's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Lisabeth Posthuma Why did Lisabeth love this book?

Studying the evolution of language is one of my nerdy passions (why yes, I have read The Professor and the Madman about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary), so this book was right up my alley.

In Wordslut reporter, linguist, and Sounds Like a Cult podcaster (it’s great, check it out), author Amanda Montell deep dives into how language can both oppress and free us and gives loads of examples of how it’s been used throughout history to do both. Fun, snappy, and—bonus—educational, this was an eye-opening read that has helped me become a more precise communicator and altogether better writer.

By Amanda Montell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wordslut as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I get so jazzed about the future of feminism knowing that Amanda Montell's brilliance is rising up and about to explode worldwide."-Jill Soloway

A brash, enlightening, and wildly entertaining feminist look at gendered language and the way it shapes us.

The word bitch conjures many images, but it is most often meant to describe an unpleasant woman. Even before its usage to mean "a female canine," bitch didn't refer to women at all-it originated as a gender-neutral word for "genitalia." A perfectly innocuous word devolving into an insult directed at females is the case for tons more terms, including hussy,…

Book cover of Pronoun Envy: Literary Uses of Linguistic Gender

Emilia Di Martino Author Of Celebrity Accents and Public Identity Construction: Analyzing Geordie Stylizations

From my list on language and identity and why it matters.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of English Linguistics interested in all aspects of language, identity, society, and power. I grew up and live in Southern Italy, in the Naples area, except for extended summertime family visits to San Diego, Southern California. I alternate my reading and writing between books on language and identity (how we self-promote ourselves to the public through personal style and narratives, molding our public image in a way we believe most advantageous to us) and texts on language and society (how we as individuals do things with words and gather information about other people from the way they communicate) and how these aspects intersect with power issues.

Emilia's book list on language and identity and why it matters

Emilia Di Martino Why did Emilia love this book?

In 1971, in response to a protest by women students at the Harvard Divinity School against the masculine universal, the chair of Harvard’s linguistics department, Calvert Watkins, wrote a letter to Crimson, cosigned by other colleagues. Explaining the concept of ‘markedness,’ he contended there was “really no cause for anxiety or pronoun-envy on the part of those seeking such changes.” Anna Livia’s book─originally her PhD thesis at Berkeley, uses the controversial phrase as the departure point for an enlightening analysis of a wide range of English and French texts problematizing the traditional linguistic gender system. The study reveals that rather than stemming from undue envy, gendered language is justifiably at the core of feminist battles. How can we express ourselves fully if our identities are not adequately represented in discourse?

By Anna Livia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pronoun Envy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this interdisciplinary book, Livia examines a broad corpus of written texts in English and French, concentrating on those texts which problematize the traditional functioning of the linguistic gender system. They range from novels and prose poems to film scripts and personal testimonies, and in time from the nineteenth century to the present. Her goal is to show that rather than being a case of misguided envy, battles over gendered language are central to feminist
concerns. This fresh and exciting scholarship will appeal to linguists and scholars in literary and gender studies.

Book cover of The Gashlycrumb Tinies

Iphigenia Jones Author Of What Would Wednesday Do?: Gothic Guidance and Macabre Musings from Your Favorite Addams Family Member

From my list on reading like Wednesday Addams and indulging your dark side.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to the creepy and kooky world of the Addams Family. I’ve watched every episode of the 1960s sitcom. I fell in love with the 90s films, and when the Netflix adaptation Wednesday aired, I streamed every episode immediately. I’ve written two books based on Wednesday and her family, and I have an upcoming cocktail book with recipes based on gothic literature. My love of horror books and my understanding of the Addams family led me to seek out the perfect list of Wednesday read-alikes.

Iphigenia's book list on reading like Wednesday Addams and indulging your dark side

Iphigenia Jones Why did Iphigenia love this book?

What terrible tome would Morticia and Gomez have read to little Wednesday in order to ensure that she would have the most noxious nightmares? I believe they would’ve cracked open this gothic children’s classic, written and illustrated by the enigmatic Edward Gorey.

This book recites the alphabet, with each letter representing how a child died. Take, for instance, the representation of our second letter: “B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” What better way for a wicked whelp to learn her letters?

I both chuckled and winced while reading this book, especially with the paired black-and-white illustrations. It’s funny and deeply dark, which is, of course, the perfect mix for an Addams Family fan.

By Edward Gorey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Gashlycrumb Tinies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new, small-format edition of one of Edward Gorey’s “dark masterpieces of surreal morality” (Vanity Fair): a witty, disquieting journey through the alphabet.

Book cover of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

Philip Gooden Author Of Bad Words: And What They Say about Us

From my list on swear words.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write fiction, mostly historical mysteries, and non-fiction, generally about the English language. Both aspects of my writing reflect an interest in the past and how it continually shapes the present. The roots of English go back thousands of years to Latin, Anglo-Saxon, French, and many other sources. Yet the newest term to the vast storehouse of language may have been added only last week. Recently I’ve been writing about oaths, swear words, and bad language.

Philip's book list on swear words

Philip Gooden Why did Philip love this book?

This American title is at the more academic end of books on swearing and oaths. Mohr shows how obscenity evolves over time. Words now considered indecent were acceptable in the Middle Ages while careless invocations of God and Jesus were taboo (that’s not to say they weren’t used). The very title of the book neatly illustrates a difference between US and British culture, with the asterisk being used to soften potential offence in the States. By contrast in the UK, the word usually appears naked and unashamed on the cover (as in Frankie Boyle’s My Shit Life So Far).

By Melissa Mohr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Holy Sh*t as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Almost everyone swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two year-old who has just discovered the power of potty mouth to the grandma who wonders why every other word she hears is obscene. Whether they express anger or exhilaration, are meant to insult or to commend, swear words perform a crucial role in language. But swearing is also a uniquely well-suited lens through which to look at history, offering a fascinating record of what people care about on the
deepest levels of a culture-what's divine, what's terrifying, and what's taboo.

Holy Sh*t tells the story of two kinds of…

Book cover of The Emotion Thesaurus

James Phelps Author Of Australia's Most Infamous Jail: Inside the walls of Pentridge Prison

From my list on getting any writer started in the industry.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am passionate about this book list because it helped me get where I am today, a multiple-times bestselling author and an award-winning senior reporter. I began working as an overnight police round reporter before moving into sports, where I became one of Australia's best news-breaking rugby league journalists. I was then appointed News Corp Australia's Chief National Motorsports Writer and traveled the world chasing Formula 1 story, as well as covering Australia's V8 Supercar races. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for me, this list of books helped me begin and continue to grow to reach the level of success that I have.

James' book list on getting any writer started in the industry

James Phelps Why did James love this book?

I stumbled upon this one in a library. Yes, they still have things called Libraries. And this book is a little ripper if you are writing fiction. 

If you have ever attempted to write a novel, you would have no doubt found yourself saying things like his heart was racing; he held his breath, a shiver ran up his spine, blah, blah, blah. It’s not until you go back through your manuscript that you realize how many times you have used the same descriptions. Over and over and over again. 

This little gem of a book is jam-packed with alternatives. It offers brilliant tips on expressing the same emotions and feelings with originality and without repetition.

By Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Emotion Thesaurus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling Emotion Thesaurus, often hailed as “the gold standard for writers” and credited with transforming how writers craft emotion, has now been expanded to include 55 new entries! 

One of the biggest struggles for writers is how to convey emotion to readers in a unique and compelling way. When showing our characters’ feelings, we often use the first idea that comes to mind, and they end up smiling, nodding, and frowning too much. 

If you need inspiration for creating characters’ emotional responses that are personalized and evocative, this ultimate show-don’t-tell guide for emotion can help. It includes:

Body language…

Book cover of A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms

Sam Leith Author Of Words Like Loaded Pistols: The Power of Rhetoric from the Iron Age to the Information Age

From my list on rhetoric and the art of persuasion.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a journalist and critic who fell in love with the ancient art of rhetoric through Shakespeare, Chaucer… and Barack Obama. It was when I watched Obama’s consciously and artfully classical oratory as he campaigned for the 2008 election that my undergraduate interest in tricolons, epistrophe, aposiopesis and all that jazz surged back to the front of my mind. I went on to write a 2011 book arguing that not only is this neglected area of study fascinating, but it is the most important tool imaginable to understand politics, language, and human nature itself. Where there is language, there is rhetoric.  

Sam's book list on rhetoric and the art of persuasion

Sam Leith Why did Sam love this book?

Don’t be put off by the dry-sounding title. This book is the authoritative A-Z reference on the “flowers of rhetoric”: all the “figures” and “tropes”, or twists and turns of language that make it beautiful, memorable – and persuasive.

But it’s more than just a geek-heaven cabinet of curiosities: it’s full of history and philosophy, of wisdom and humour. I know of no other scholarly reference book that brings more joy and amusement.  

By Richard A. Lanham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a unique combination of alphabetical and descriptive lists, "A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms" provides in one convenient, accessible volume all the rhetorical terms - mostly Greek and Latin - that students of Western literature and rhetoric are likely to come across in their reading or will find useful in their writing. The Second Edition of this widely used work offers new features that will make it even more useful: a completely revised alphabetical listing that defines nearly 1,000 terms used by scholars of formal rhetoric from classical Greece to the present day; a revised system of cross-references between terms;…