We don’t talk with anyone about issues we consider as valuable, but only with those we are absolutely certain they will respect what we respect, they will share the same feelings, and even then, only at the right time, and rarely.
It is evident from these, that I can not recommend books as gifts to others. To whoever have the question stated at the beginning, seeking to support themselves, I’ll try to talk about books that I would give them if I knew them, and according to my specific knowledge about them.
Cf. OnLine: Schmemann, A History of the Orthodox Church
To an atheist who, despite his atheism, would ask to be ‘informed’ about Orthodoxy, I would suggest the reading Plato. If even Plato fails to make him understand that atheism is identical with stupidity, why should I expect for him to find a better help elsewhere? On the other hand, if his lack of thinking made him despise Plato, at least I saved him from despising the major, namely Orthodoxy.
Faithful coming from Western forms of Christianity, would probably like to read for Orthodoxy a book which takes into account (even silently) the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism or Protestantism. Such a book is Schmemann’s, For the Life of the World. This book has the additional benefit of an emphasis upon the Orthodox ecclesiastical experience, an emphasis that tends to be somehow restricted to the sacraments, but still is based on a substantial understanding and cultivates conditions proper to make one realize that faith is not a reward of individualistic performance.
Some consider Florovsky to be more important than Schmemann. If we judge according to the number of books or to the ‘scientific’ elaboration, Florovsky might indeed prevail, but he often tends to say a lot of words for things that can and should be said in a few words.