1. "The American Political Tradition" by Richard Hofstadter. It ignited my interest in history.
2. "Black Boy" by Richard Wright. It indelibly imprinted on me the horrors my grandparents and parents faced as blacks in the pre-civil-rights Deep South.
3. "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877" by Eric Foner. A magnificent scholarly edifice.
4. "Our Undemocratic Constitution" by Sanford Levinson. A fearless examination of the Constitution by one of the most adventurous (and overlooked) U.S. intellectuals.
5. "Four Quartets" by T. S. Eliot. Because it contains the poem "East Coker," in which one finds the lines: "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
A classic book that disappointed: W.E.B. DuBois's "The Souls of Black Folk" is one of the most lauded books in the African-American canon, but I found it disappointingly thin.
A classic you've never read: Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Why? Laziness.