I like Alfred Portales' Gotham Bar and Grill books. Also James Peterson "Sauces" or "Glorious French Food", Thomas Keller's "French Laundry", Alain Ducasses "Flavors of France', "The Chef's Art" by Wayne Gisslen, "Joy of Cooking" is a must for any kitchen. The CIA has produced some great books which you can find on their website. Julia Child and Simone Beck "Mastering the Art of French Cooking. "The New Making of a Cook" by Madeleine Kamman.
"The Art of Eating" by MFK Fisher is a great read. The biography of Jacques Pepin is very entertaining. Fannie Farmer book on Baking is good for general baking. "The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. The Larousse Gastronomique is a classic that every chef should own to understand much of the history of cooking. There are also many books on new subjects like vegetarian cooking
and gluten free baking. It is good to have one or two of these on hand for reference. More and more chefs and restaurants are putting cookbooks out these days. Barnes and Noble is loaded with them. Pick out any book that challenges and inspires you to get in the kitchen and try new things and re-invigorates your spirit and dedication to perfecting your craft. Personally I find books with high quality color photos to be the most inspiring because you can see what a dish should look like and get ideas for presentations.
James Peterson has produced some great books. His "Sauces" is a constant reference for me. Madeleine Kamman "The New Making of a Cook" is another really good book. Thomas Keller's "French Laundry" has some great advice. There are many more, often at used book stores.
I second any of the Keller books and Fergus Henderson book.The French Laundry Cookbook is awesome. Ludobites, Ideas In Food and Modernist Cuisine if you can afford it or find it at a library. Art Culinaire is a pretty hit publication and will run you pretty much as much as some cookbooks so I'm going to hrow that down as well. Jacque Pepins La Technique.
Just a thought. I hate admitting this but I often overlook simple things when reading cookbooks. Like when a recipe says "reduce by half, add wine, reduce by half again, strain." I may not reduce by half both times, or I may not strain it. Or "the dough should rest for fifteen minutes" and I do not let it. I'll miss/overlook any number of "minor" instructions. Naturally my results are not accurate, often not admirable. It has sadly taken me years to realize that these "minor" instructions make the dish what it is and help me to make the dish what it should be.
So I'm posting this to say that whatever book you get, read it carefully and make sure you are doing the recommended steps. They really do make a difference.
I always figured a CIA book could be lame and boring but I have some serious books including Larousse Gastronomique and Escoffier and I must admit two weeks ago I purchased "Professional Chef" a CIA book and not only does it go over almost every necessary fundamental to cooking but it is a super easy read. I believe its about 1300 pages or something like that and just after two weeks I'm on like pg 800. It's got sweet photos too.
This thread has inspired me to finally organize my cookbooks. I actually created a goodreads account so I'm able to easily reference the ones I own without having to dig through dusty boxes. I think it's time for me to part with many of them that are so old and outdated. I'm sitting amongst piles of boxes right now.
I do recommend Gastronomique, and The Making of a Cook, as well.
My latest favorite is Cooks Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking. This book goes over a lot a basic cooking concepts in a very fresh and informative. Several people mentioned Bourdains Les Halles...I think his introduction in this book is the greatest essay on professional cooking I've ever read. Some people hate the guy but Marco Pierre White's White Heat always gets me fired up. The dishes are pretty outdated but still beautiful and his crazy ego/passion is entertaining. Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn may be the only cookbook without a single photo that I truly love and go back to all the time. Any of the books from the River Cottage by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall are great. A very rustic gourmet with some interesting notions on food and environmental sustainability.