1. Love, Life, Goethe: Lessons of the Imagination from the Great German Poet, by John Armstrong. The author does not demonstrate overwhelming expertise but this is nonetheless not a bad place to start on the most neglected of all the great writers.
2. The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla. Why Schleiermacher really matters, how Kant painted himself into a corner trying to solve the problems laid out by Rousseau, and why it all springs from Hobbes. I found this well above average for its genre, though you must have a taste for Straussian-like books where big ideas clash at the macro level and there is little attempt at any kind of empirical resolution.
3. How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom, by Garry Kasparov. This is a fun book, except that life mostly doesn’t imitate chess. Chess is characteristic for its lack of self-deception; it is hard to avoid knowing where you stand in the hierarchy and excuses are few and far between. That’s why most chess players are depressed. Kasparov seems to save his self-deception for politics; let’s hope he is still alive a year from now.
4. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, by Richard Rhodes. This favorite book of Jason Kottke is first-rate non-fiction, it is also one of the best books on the Cold War.
5. The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa. One of the best studies of the psychology of political power and the connection between tyranny and the erotic. A fun albeit sometimes harrowing read. Another superb translation by Edith Grossman, might she be the best translator ever?