1. Ray Spangenburg and Diane Kit Moser
These two are a married couple who have written many books in the history of science, and their "On the Shoulders of Giants" series is a recommended read if you're scientifically oblivious but want to amend that.
2. Greg Iles
A couple of summers ago, I read four Greg Iles books in one week. This was not intentional. Iles writes mystery thrillers, often in the southern gothic style, and has an impressive way with characters. The Quiet Game was his first Penn Cage novel.
3. Max Shulman
Possibly more famous in his day, Shulman wrote novels drenched in satire and absurdism in the mid-20th century. I found him through The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, an incomparably funny collection of short stories about a would-be romeo/intellectual who attends university in the fifties.
4. Sarah Vowell
Vowell's books (Assassination Vacation, The Wordy Shipmates) are a strange mix of history, humor, and social commentary. The only other people I've met who have read her tend to be like me, public radio listeners.
5. Frances and Joseph Gies
I know three people who recognize these two, and one of those is my former medieval history professor. They're a great resource for people interested in daily life during the medieval epoch, and chances are their information will surprise those who consider themselves familiar with the period. Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel shook up my perception of intellectual achievement during the era.
6. Christopher Moore
I'm not sure how popular Moore is, but I've loved everything of his I've read -- Lamb, the novel of Jesus' life told from the viewpoint of his best friend Levi (who is called Biff), is particularly good. He's written a series of vampire comedies which I've yet to
7. Bernard Cornwell
I don't know if it's the circles I frequent or not, but I only know of two people who have read Bernard Cornwell: myself and blogger Cyberkitten who introduced me to him. Cornwell writes historical fiction. To the degree he's known, it would be for his Napoleonic-era war books, but my favorite is the Saxon Stories series, which follows a Saxon raised by Vikings named Uhtred as he works to regain his ancestral land while grudgingly serving King Alfred. Cornwell became a great favorite of mine last year.
8. Robert Ingersoll
Chances are you've never heard of Ingersoll, but politicians used to crave his endorsement -- and Mark Twain raved about him. Ingersoll was an orator in the late 19th century, who has left a considerable body of work in the form of essays, lectures, and speeches (available here). Ingersoll's ideals were ahead of his time, and he wrote forcefully in defense of human creativity, liberty, democracy, and intelligence while attacking injustice, monarchy, and organized religion. He lectured on technological progress, Shakespeare, and philosophy. While I can't imagine how he sounded in his prime, even the written versions of his speech rivet me to my seat. (I use Ingersoll as my display picture on Blogger, by the way!)
9. Robert Harris
Harris writes political/mystery thrillers, some set in the past, some set in the present, and some set in...alternate histories. My first exposure to Harris was Fatherland, an alt-history mystery novel in which a Berlin detective stumbles upon a truth that was hidden when Nazi Germany prevailed in its struggle against the Soviet Union. I later started reading his Roman novels, including one set in Pompeii. His The Ghost, a work of political intrigue about the life of
10. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (fantasy)
I first read Atwater-Rhodes back in high school: her In the Forests of the Night caught my eye, largely because of the title. She writes stories of vampires and witches, and her vampires intrigue me in a way that no one else's, including Anne Rice's, have.
11. Isaac Asimov.
"Hold the phone," you say? "Isaac Asimov is plenty famous?" Well, sure - he is. But most people just know him as a science popularize and the creator of the Foundation science fiction series. Asimov had a considerable range -- he penned mysteries and histories, provide commentaries for the Bible and Shakespeare, produced an annotated collection of poems, wrote several collection of etymologies from mythology and history, and of course produced gobs of science-fiction short stories, science essays, and science books proper. My favorite series by Asimov is his Black Widower collections -- short stories about a group of friends and intellectuals who meet once a month for dinner and are presented with a mystery which they must puzzle through. The solutions sometimes lie in historical, scientific, or etymological trivia -- but sometimes it's just a case of thinking outside the box.