A Natural History of the Piano, by Stuart Isacoff
Isacoff gives us a history of the instrument as well as its most renowned composers and performers, and describes how the piano became such a long-lasting cultural phenomenon. As an amateur pianist myself, it was quite interesting to read about the piano's sometimes bizarre history, and Isacoff writes with sincere admiration for the incredible people who made the instrument what it is today. His writing is fast-paced and engaging, and his enthusiasm is infective. The only drawback is the awkward structure of the book. Interspersed every other page or so are secondary sections describing oddities, or extracts from others regarding the current topic. While these sections are fun and enlightening, their physical placement breaks up the flow of the main text, and they are long enough (most are a little less than a full page) to make you forget what you had been reading about before. I'm not entirely sure why this structure was chosen, as it makes the book somewhat like a textbook; but it is not so bad that it detracts too much from the book as a whole.