In 2011, HarperCollins’ Ecco Press announced that Anthony Bourdain would be coming out with his own publishing line, a collection of titles to “reflect his remarkably eclectic tastes.” While the first books chosen were all food-related, Bourdain said of the imprint,

This will be a line of books for people with strong voices who are good at something—who speak with authority. Discern nothing from this initial list—other than a general affection for people who cook food and like food. The ability to kick people in the head is just as compelling to us—as long as that’s coupled with an ability to vividly describe the experience.

Bourdain was a lifelong fan of the printed word, and in a New York Times interview on his reading habits, described himself as “a fast, voracious and precocious reader as a child [who] loved stories of adventure and lurid horror.” As an adult he grew to appreciate spy novels, deep-dive histories and compelling bios.

Bourdain regularly posted his current reads to Twitter and Instagram, and wrote and released books under his Ecco line up until his 2018 passing. Read on for a list of his favorites, then check out the bookshelves of fellow foodies and culinary educators Alice Waters, Chrissy Teigen, Julia Child and Nigella Lawson.

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen)

“Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live, on the life and work of Montaigne, is a book I love. I stole a tattoo design from it.” -AB

Crash by J.G. Ballard

“Violent. Twisted. Hilarious and beautiful.” -AB

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (also rec’d by Bob Dylan)

“Filthy, dangerous, depraved groundbreaking. And funny as Hell. Not an ideal role model, I grant you. But a writer I very much looked up to and wanted, for better or worse, to emulate.” -AB

Collected Works by Milton Caniff

Smiley’s People by John le Carré

L.A. Son by Ray Choi

The White Album by Joan Didion (also rec’d by Annie ClarkKim Gordon)

“I wish I could write like Joan Didion.” -AB

My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals / Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes by Melanie Dunea

“And yet, when we ask ourselves and each other the question, what — if strapped to a chair, facing a fatal surge of electricity — would we want as that last taste of life, we seem to crave reminders of simpler, harder times. A crust of bread and butter . . . Poor-people food.” -AB
“I don’t know if you know this but I’ve found that if you sat at a table with eight or nine of the worlds best chefs — from France, Brazil, America, wherever — and you asked them where they’d choose if they had to eat in one, and only one country, for the rest of their lives, they would ALL of them pick Japan without hesitation. We both know why.” -A

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (also rec’d by Hayao Miyazaki)

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

“Drama, romance, tragic history in SE Asia? I’m there! I re-read it frequently. Particularly when visiting Vietnam.” -AB

Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene

Ways of Escape by Graham Greene

“A book I’ve read many times but keep coming back to.” -AB

Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton

“To reiterate : Gabrielle Hamilton’s PRUNE is indeed, a fucking masterpiece.” -AB

The Friends Of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

“The best, most realistic crime novel ever. Best dialogue in a crime novel ever.” -AB

Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith

“Elegant, deliciously immoral entry in series of sociopath as hero. Basis for the Wim Wenders film, the American Friend.” -AB

Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches From a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday

“This is — and will remain — an essential account for anyone considering travel to Việt Nam. But it should be a deeply rewarding read as well for those who won’t be getting that opportunity anytime soon.” -AB

Agents of Innocence by David Ignatius

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir by Padma Lakshmi

Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris by A.J. Liebling

“‘Food writing’ at its very, very best. Never surpassed. What all writing about eating should be.” -AB

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story by David Maraniss

Ashenden: Or the British Agent by Somerset Maugham

Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry

“A glorious spy novel. Witty, knowing. Delicious.” -AB

You’re Better Than Me by Bonnie McFarlane

“Unfuck yourself and get Bonnie McFarlane’s excellent memoir, You’re Better Than Me. Every second that you are not reading this amazing, hilarious, painfully funny, extraordinary book should feel like the ninth circle of hell.” -AB

Wd~50: The Cookbook by Peter Meehan & Wylie Dufresne

On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates
“Just a reminder that Joyce Carol Oates is one of the great writers on boxing. Reading (again) her terrific On Boxing.” -AB

Essays by George Orwell

“The font of all wisdom. Orwell is right about nearly everything.” -AB

Politics and the English Language by George Orwell

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

“Donald Ray Pollock was a revelation when I first read The Devil All the Time.” -AB

True Grit by Charles Portis

“The greatest female protagonist I’ve ever read. Portis is one of the most underrated under appreciated authors of the 20th century. Forget the film versions. Read the book. His book, ‘Dog Of The South,’ is also brilliant.” -AB

something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs by Questlove

“Food can be magic. It is magic. And yet it’s not. it comes from somewhere — and from someplace and someone. Always. Food tells a story. Usually a very personal one. Questlove gets to the heart of the matter. And so, here he is, getting to it.” -AB

Adios, Motherfucker by Michael Ruffino

“Just the title got its publisher Banned On Twitter. A proud day in publishing.” -AB

American Dream Machine by Matthew Spektor

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (also rec’d by Hayao Miyazaki)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

“The book that probably influenced me more than any other. A prose stylist and a personality who changed my life.” -AB

The Man Who Lost The War by W. T. Tyler

Rogue’s March by W. T. Tyler

Books by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential (2000 – rec’d by Carrie Brownstein)

A Cook’s Tour (2001)

The Nasty Bits (2005)

Medium Raw (2010)

(via Business Insider, The New York TimesInstagramTwitter)

Categories: Chefs Writers


Anthony Bourdain: 39 Books To 'Unfuck Yourself'

  1. I was surprised to see Joan Didion on Anthony’s list. She has long been my favorite author and that Tony wished he could write like her makes me smile.

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