If you're looking for a history of cocktails from the American perspective, you don't need to look much further than Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash ... (M) by David Wondrich. Wondrich is a cocktail authority, co-founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail (it's in New Orleans) and his book follows the life of a prominent early bartender Professor Jerry Thomas. Filled with stories (and recipes) from 19th Century cocktail saloons, the book won a James Beard Foundation book award.
The title of The Drunken Botanist : the plants that create the world's great drinks (M) by Amy Stewart probably gives you a pretty good indication of what the book is about, and this book will probably be of great interest to anyone with an interest in individual cocktail ingredients. The publisher notes "Of all the extraordinary and obscure plants that have been fermented and distilled, a few are dangerous, some are downright bizarre, and one is as ancient as dinosaurs—but each represents a unique cultural contribution to our global drinking traditions and our history."
These next two books are ostensibly recipe books but have great introductions packed with history (and even science) so feel worth mentioning in a post about reading rather than one about mixology. Bitters : a spirited history of a classic cure-all (M) by Brad Thomas Parsons, focuses not on spirits but on bitters, the ultra potent herbal concoctions that are used to enhance cocktail's flavour. The Cocktail Lab: unraveling the mysteries of flavor and aroma in drink (M) from reknowned UK Bartender Tony Conigliaro, blends classic cocktails and modern "molecular gastronomy" techniques and gives loads of interesting information as well as recipes.Looking for a history of the world of drinks in general?
You might want to check out A History of the World in 6 Glasses (M) by Tom Standage, which includes looks at non-alcoholic drinks like tea and coffee including as well.
Back to Gatsby, those interested in the times when cocktails were not so publicly embraced, may want to investigate Last Call: the rise and fall of prohibition (M) by Daniel Okrent, which documents the period in the 1920s and 30s when alcohol was outlawed in America.
Or for something more locally focused, Rum Running (M) by Allison Lawlor which "recounts the exploits and escapades of the East Coast's most infamous liquor smugglers."
Oh, and speaking of The Great Gatsby, if your interest in cocktails is tied to the film/book, you may want to view our post from earlier this year: Everything Gatsby.