Ever since wanting to be a concept designer when I was 13, drawing the human figure has been a passion of mine and has driven me to seek out the best sources of information and instruction on it.
Here is a list of what I personally think are the best for an all round solid foundation in life drawing - my actual library is much larger than this, there are so many great books out there. These would be what I'd recommend to a beginner, and to help anyone confused from the range of choice out there.
Figure Drawing - Design and Invention: Michael Hampton
The book I'd recommend more than any of the others is Michael Hampton's Figure Drawing. It covers all the basics very well from start to finish; gesture, volume and specific anatomy. It combines what I think is the best from Bridgeman and Loomis but in a much more modern and concise way. Great for guidance on specific muscles or features of the human form or for an introduction to the approaches used when drawing a realistic depiction of the figure. The information is incredibly clear and easy to apply, unlike some of the older classic figure drawing books - this does a great job of cutting away the chaff from them as well as adding better explanations.
How to Draw: Scott Robertson
Wait this has a picture of a truck on it, why is it in a figure drawing list? That is because perspective is one of the most overlooked parts of drawing - it is ridiculous how undervalued it is by beginners and how greatly it will improve your drawings just by knowing a small amount. It's seen as a daunting and slightly tedious process by beginners as it requires rulers, measuring and lots of boring technical drawing of boxes - this book makes it really fun. Coming from more of a Vehicle Design oriented subject matter, Scott Robertson excellently guides the reader from simple 3d spaces right into drawing elaborate lens effects like fish eye and complex vehicular forms.
Blocking out the human form with these simple principles in mind will add such a huge amount of realism and will instantly kick your drawings up a notch. Not to be overlooked.
Dynamic Life Drawing For Animators: Michael D. Mattesi
Short and sweet - Michael Mattesi's figure drawing book specializes in the gesture of life drawing - the aspect that gives it the most LIFE! Emphasizing to draw consciously and with intention towards the subject as a whole; the story you want to capture, the muscles that stand out in the pose - this book asks the question of WHY you are drawing as opposed to HOW you can. Best to pick it up after you know some of the basics but this book is still great for beginners, he even goes over some common beginner mistakes (such as the dreaded chicken scratch line ). Your drawings will become more dynamic and thoughtful, cleaner and simpler.
Henry Yan's Figure Drawing: Techniques And Tips
A rarer book than the others but a gem. Concentrating on drawing the figure with charcoal this book focuses on massing and gesture - taking a less specific anatomical approach, it is basically a step by step to Henry Yan's drawing approach and is what he teaches at the Academy of Art San Francisco. I have found no other book that instructs like this one does - it is full of specific life drawing sessions using a range of techniques and over different durations as well as exercises and breakdowns for the readers to more deeply understand his mindset. More of an advanced book and packed with concise information.
I've chosen these 4 books because I feel like they cover a great range of different areas and different styles of teaching. Together they make up a great education and are a great concise library to get anyone started with life drawing. Of course there are many other books out there that I would recommend but to me, these 4 are the ones I return to again and again - just my opinion.