The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg
Bought this when visiting the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library a couple of weeks back, and decided to read it straight away. I've always been fascinated by etymology. This book is laid out as a biography of the English language, and Bragg writes about English almost as though it were a living, breathing, conscious entity. How did a language first brought to England by Saxon invaders in around 500AD become the globally spoken language of commerce and business that it is today?
The book leads us from Old English (whose words still make up the core of our language - Churchill's We shall fight them on the beaches speech almost entirely consists of words from old english), through the Middle English of Chaucer, to the modern English of Shakespeare. And then on - English has an amazing knack of absorbing words from other languages (unlike French which actively resists adopting phrases such as le weekend) and perhaps because of this, is able to express more ideas more precisely than other languages.
So there are chapters on the influence of American English, Indian English, even Australian English by drongo, and Jamaican. Utterly absorbing and brilliantly written. Loved it.