Books: Alex Ross

My Five Most Important Books
1. "Doctor Faustus" by Thomas Mann. The ultimate book about music: a beyond-dark tale of a composer in league with the Devil.

2. "The Infinite Variety of Music" by Leonard Bernstein. When I was a kid, I wore out an LP of him talking about Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony. Still the best Music 101 book on the market.

3. "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman. Her evocation of Old Europe on the eve of World War I is popular history at its most potent.

4. "We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live" by Joan Didion. An awe-inspiring nonfiction collection. Didion imposes her style on the world, yet records the world as it is.

5. "The Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James. The pragmatist worked all his life to reconcile dogma and doubt. We need him now more than ever.

A book to which you always return: I always have Wallace Stevens's poems by my desk. They recharge my love of language.