To read Crystal's other selections, click here.
If I were ever asked which book to take to a desert island, I would opt immediately for the second edition of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (1989)--and hope that the island had an electricity supply so that I could download the online version or use the CD. The OED is without a doubt the most comprehensive account of the history of English vocabulary ever compiled. It has gaps and biases, of course--for example, the original editors went through Shakespeare with a tooth-comb, at the expense of some of the other Elizabethan dramatists--but it is still the source I turn to most often whenever I am working on the development of the language. Its process of continual editorial revision provides a voyage of linguistic discovery that, I am happy to say, never comes to an end.
Click here to see a list of the top ten books about the OED.