90% of the chess books should never have been written – Lev Polugaevsky
The five chess books which commenced my study of chess 40 years ago are the following:
- Modern Ideas in Chess (Richard Réti)
- Chess from Morphy to Botwinnik (Imre König)
- 200 Open Games (David Bronstein)
- 500 Master Games of Chess (Tartakower & Dumont)
- Basic Chess Endings (Reuben Fine)
These books explain the technical basics of chess (as understood in their respective eras), basics I had lacked since learning the game as a child, such as the evolution of the openings, middlegame concepts and endgame technique.
Unquestionably the most useful books I have read the past 5 years are GM John Nunn’s books on the endgames. Nunn has undertaken to clarify the truth of the endgames and sweep away decades of error, enlisting all the literature, all the aid computers can offer us, and his own incomparable ability to make the truth digestible (though he admits his own failure in running up against queen endings).
It’s easy to generate lots of analysis using a computer, but a mass of variations by itself doesn’t convey understanding … In these two volumes I have made a big effort to explain in words the ideas that underlie the analysis. – Nunn’s Chess Endings, Vol. 2, Introduction
Some find Nunn’s works dull, but I find them gripping reading and indispensable to my continued development as a player.
Incidentally, GM Jeremy Silman once polled several of his fellow GMs about their favorite chess books and that excellent list of lists is here.