Heard the tired old mantra: ‘Men Don’t Read’? Publishers and marketers have been touting this lie for ages because they’ve told themselves that women read more and men don’t read at all, regardless of the validity of this statement.
THIS MUST END.
Because it’s simply NOT true.
Men LOVE to read. Tons of them do.
My father is a reader. So’s my brother. I love books and most of my male friends are readers.
Intelligent men (educated or not) are readers. They understand the power of acquiring more knowledge to become better people, better men.
So why read a good book?
For many guys, a good book is a great guide to negotiate a difficult journey (although few men admit to this downright being the case). Books can be, almost topographically, a map and guide through life; giving you advice, great ideas, mental stimulation, and taking you into another world while giving you rest and relaxation.
They’re also fantastic sources of personal development counsel and wisdom. Books with strong active narrative themes – like Ernest Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ that blow your mind and challenge your perspective as you learn “the dry-mouthed, fear-purged purging ecstasy of battle you fought that summer and that fall for all the poor in the world against all tyranny, for all the things you believed in and for the new world you had been educated into.”
Great books are those that deal with intellectual struggle, self-reflection or with overcoming our angst-ridden struggle against convention and social normality. Catastrophe is an awesome theme, as are stories that discuss the struggle to rise above circumstance.
Gents, books that could change your life are the ones that HAVE to grace your bookshelf – they’ll shape your perspective on politics, religion, money, and love and become a source of inspiration for the rest of your life.
And we’ve got the definitive list. 50 MUST READ books that have fashioned the lives of great men while also helping define broader cultural ideas of what it means to be a man.
Let us know which of these you have impacted your life – we want your opinion on this list and even some feedback on which we’ve left out and should include.
So here it is: OUR LIST OF 15 BOOKS EVERY MAN SHOULD READ, BEFORE HE DIES.
1/ The Odyssey (Homer)
One of the greatest works of literature to be written, this is an epic poem attributed to the blind poet Homer. Complete with cyclops, lotus-eaters, sea monsters, and hostile giants, and written as a sequel to the Iliad, the Odyssey tells of the long journey home by the Greek hero Odysseus. I’m currently working my way through ‘The Odyssey’. It’s hard core – not the easiest to navigate but highly worth it. One reader said of The Odyssey and I agree: “I felt its primordial power and emotional bareness; I felt another world, another age and another human journey come alive inside of me. It made me feel that I was a part of long and unbroken lineage of humanity searching for truth and purpose in a world – especially my world, a world not always blessed with clarity and opportunity. And if you have any warrior spirit left in you, you will read this and know when and how to give a damn. The Odyssey is an action. And so is life.”
2/ The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
The precursor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this is a good one to read (or re-read) in advance of the 2010 release of the movie adaptation which is being directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth). This is the foundation of it all, and this passage demonstrates the effect on all men (and dwarves) when faced with the prospect of power – “Their mere fleeting glimpses of treasure which they had caught as they went along had rekindled all the fire of their dwarfish hearts; and when the heart of a dwarf, even the most respectable, is wakened by gold and by jewels, he grows suddenly bold, and he may become fierce.” After you’re courageously done with the Hobbit, try ‘Lord of the Rings’.
3/ The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
Most men I know have somehow identified with Holden Caufield, who if nothing else, should serve as a point of reference for the angst and cynicism that you perhaps once had, or ideally never had. If you thought like him when you were 16 or 17 years old, you are forgiven. If you still ‘feel’ him, you need to find some more joy, somehow…fake it ’til you make it. Do something. At least read the damn book.
4/ The Republic (Plato)
Since every man can use a fair portion of philosophy in his literary diet, the origin of legitimate western thought might be a good place to start. Plato’s most well known work breaks down topics of which you should have a fundamental understanding such as government, justice, and political theory.
5/ The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli)
Considered by most to be the authoritative text on statesmanship and power (how to obtain it as well as an illustration of its trappings), although certainly a shrewd one. “From this arises an argument: whether it is better to be loved than feared. I reply that one should like to be both one and the other; but since it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking.” Essentially, ‘The Prince’ does not dismiss morality, instead, it politically defines.
6/ Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Achebe depicts the West African Igbo people as a great social institution; heavy in traditions and laws that focus on justice and fairness and ruled by a kind of democracy, where the males meet and make decisions by consensus in accordance to a written “Oracle”. It is the Europeans, who often talk of bringing democratic institutions to the rest of the world, that upset this system. In this most widely read of African literature books, ‘Things Fall Apart’ attempts to repair some of the damage done by earlier European depictions of Africa. A thoroughly fascinating read.
7/ For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)
Set in the Spanish Civil War, this novel explores who man becomes when faced with the prospect of his own death. It is worthwhile for all of us to consider what we would give our lives for, as this defines what and who we truly love. This is one of the great examples of how war has shaped men, past and present, and has in part defined the image of a true hero who is courageous even when it has brutal consequences.
8/ The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald)
Set on the East Coast in the roaring 20′s, this American novel is a classic. Relevant to every man’s life, it’s teaching is that often the wanting of something is better than actually having it. Furthermore, one true friend is worth infinitely more than a multitude of acquaintances. “He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles… It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.”
9/ The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
Arguably the best work from the ever-quotable Wilde, this novel is a cautionary tale for those desiring a life of pure decadence. Packed with impeccable wit, clever one-liners and an excessive amount of egotistical vanity. At the very least, this book will show you the glory and the pitfalls of being the best looking chap around.
10/ The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
A classic text on strategy, the Art of War is about far more than war. It’s about any sort of struggle or confrontation and taken metaphorically, you can easily apply the techniques to business, politics, or any other place that contention or conflict exists. Dauntingly thick, a large part of the writings deal with leadership and the best qualities of a leader: “Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaness, courage, and sternness.” Sun Tzu’s deeper purpose is to make war unnecessary, and the book highlights the importance of discipline in leadership, with established rewards and punishments that are consistently applied across the board. Good advice for a general as well as a corporate executive, head coach, or politician. “So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
11/ Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
Primal instincts. With only the most basic of needs to consider, human nature takes a different approach. A fictional study of the struggle for power and the unspeakable things that man (or child) will do when taken outside the order of civilization.
12/ Ulysses (James Joyce)
Just buy it and put it on your bookshelf and remember this from the book: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” We suspect that even those who have written their doctoral thesis on the book only pretend to have read every word, but a good friend of mine said not to question an academic on things of this nature, so if you encounter someone who has built a career around Joyce, don’t ask if they actually read it.
13/ The Young Man’s Guide (William Alcott)
This is one thorough resource which deals with the formation of character in a young man with regard to the mind, manners, and morals. It also has a good amount of insight on the topics of marriage and business. A strong foundational book for a young man asking the practical questions of how to live life while minimizing both terrible temporal mistakes and, well…the wrath of God. As is stated in the introduction, it is Alcott’s intention to influence young men such that they contradict the stereotypes of thoughtlessness, rashness and an unwillingness to be advised or taught. Alcott was prescient in writing this book and would probably roll over in his grave if he saw the modern race of man-babies that play X-Box for 20 hours each week and are perpetually bartending their way through junior college.
14/ Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)
Considered by many to be the greatest work of fiction, it is a goldmine of quotes surrounding a central theme that could be summed up by “all that glitters is not gold.” This is also a great reminder that it is great to be a dreamer and a visionary, but remember to keep (at least somewhat) grounded in reality. “I would do what I pleased, and doing what I pleased, I should have my will, and having my will, I should be contented; and when one is contented, there is no more to be desired; and when there is no more to be desired, there is an end of it.”
15/ Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer)
This is the tale of a young man who flees modern civilization and disappears into the Alaskan wild to find himself. It’ll grab you by the b**** with the crazy courage of Christopher McCandless and his two-year ‘fuelled by pure passion’ trek which eventually led to his demise. Was this ‘opting out of human interaction’ a self-centered act? Or a soul searching journey every man should consider? Either way it wasn’t/isn’t as romantic as imagined. All good things in proportion dear friends.
16/ The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri)
This epic vision of afterlife is valuable because it challenges us to examine the roots of what we believe and why, and the role of faith in our lives. Further, it is a vision of a world (or worlds) beyond our every day concerns, which is particularly fascinating because it was very much influenced by both Muslim and Catholic thoughts, beliefs and history.
17/ All the books of Frederick Forsyth
The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War, The Odessa File, The Afghan, The Avenger – the books of Frederick Forsyth have helped define the international thriller as we know it today. Combining meticulous research and Brit wit with crisp narratives and plots as current as the headlines, Forsyth shows us the world as it is in a way that few have ever been able to equal. I have every one of them and when I move they never get boxed in case I lose them. Brilliant old boy!
18/ The Thin Red Line (James Jones)
The author’s fictional depiction of the Guadalcanal Campaign during WW2. Portraying various wartime activities most would consider repulsive, Jones gives account without judgment. In the ongoing controversy of the Middle East conflicts, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, this work is very relevant today.
19/ Politics (Aristotle)
We should all take heed of the advice from the man that gave pointers to Alexander the Great. His writings created the first comprehensive system of philosophy, including morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics. Though it is thought that much of Aristotle’s work has been lost over the years, it is not a bad idea to take in the surviving words from one of the founding figures of Western Philosophy. “Now if some men excelled others in the same degree in which gods and heroes are supposed to excel mankind in general… so that the superiority of the governors was undisputed and patent to their subjects, it would clearly be better that once for all the one class should rule and the others serve. But since this is unattainable, and kings have no marked superiority over their subjects… it is obviously necessary on many grounds that all the citizens alike should take their turn of governing and being governed.”
20/ The Completed Works of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer the English language has ever seen. Whether you agree with that or not, he is certainly the most quoted author of all time. His output of 37 plays, 154 sonnets and sundry other poems is extraordinary by any measure and his collected works should take pride of place on your shelf.
21/ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
This classic tale of an ordinary boy being called up into an extraordinary experience is a firm fav and a firm example of the ever present Universal human myth present in all great human stories. Charlie is our impoverished hero, who having the courage to stand for the morals he’s learnt, is led into the extraordinary and towards great success, under the guidance of an old wise man – his grandfather. It’s yet another Dahl a life lesson disguised as an oddball fantasy that’s ” a singular delight, crammed with mad fantasy, childhood justice and revenge, and as much candy as you can eat”.
22/ King Solomon’s Mines (H Rider Haggard)
Another great book, King Solomon’s Mines is the English version of Indiana Jones, without the overdone histrionics, and with more battles, wildlife, wizardry and plot twists to keep you hooked for many a night. The story follows English explorers who penetrate the deepest part of Africa to find the treasure of King Solomon, encountering a lost tribe, the mad witch Gagool and a host of other fascinating characters who light up what was thought then as a dark continent. A great book to read with your son at bedtime. You’ll both be entertained and instill in your son a sense of manly adventure.
23/ The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
The ultimate tale of betrayal and revenge, and perhaps one of the best stories of all time. Edmund Dantes, who shortly after being promoted to captain of his ship, and just days before his marriage to his beloved fiance Mercedes, is brutally betrayed by those he trusts, arrested for treason and consequently taken to a prison on an island off the French coast. The story goes on to tell of his life after escape from prison, his finding the greatest treasure in all the world, and re-entering the society as a wealthy, educated and sophisticated Count. He plots his revenge, which he ultimately denies himself when forced to decide between it and his love for his Mercedes. Through this choice his justice is ultimately served. It is a great novel that you most likely won’t be able to put down until you have it finished, even if you have already seen the movie.
24/ To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Atticus Finch embodies all the traits that a noble man should have. Atticus teaches us to fight for what’s , even when everyone else around you thinks you’re wrong. He teaches his children to never judge a man until you’ve walked in their shoes; that we should recognize that people have both good and bad qualities, but focus on the good more. “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
25/ On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
Fans of Kerouac (and our readers) were up in arms when we didn’t include ‘On the Road’ in our initial 25 Top Books list (this was quickly rectified!). This radically hip novel is considered the heart of the Beat movement – it’s poetic, open, raw and Kerouac’s prose lays out a cross-country adventure as experienced by Sal Paradise, an autobiographical character. A writer holed up in a room at his aunt’s house, Paradise gets inspired by Dean Moriarty (a character based on Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady) to hit the road and see America. From the moment he gets on the seven train out of New York City, he takes the reader through the highs and lows of hitchhiking, bonding with fellow explorers and opting for beer before food. First published in 1957, Kerouac’s perennially hot story continues to express the restless energy and desire for freedom that makes people rush out to see the world. ‘On the Road’ has been said to be one of the best coming of age tomes of our time, and a must read for every boy/man coming into adulthood.
26/ The Bible (Various Authors)
Sex, adventure, incest, war, betrayal, tragedy, the greatest sacrifice and grace. You may or may not agree with the manner in which its words have been twisted to suit various religious agendas, but you have to admit that all of the greatest themes of the human race – from our magnitude to our brokenness – are captured exquisitely in the Bible. If a Western man desires to understand the culture that surrounds him, he needs to have a thorough understanding of the Book that has shaped that culture. In addition, the Bible is full of ancient counsel and advice that is applicable to today’s man, whether you’re a believer in God or not. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” – I Corinthians 13:11
(Let us know what great books you think we’ve missed and we’ll keep adding to the list!)
Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Dune (Frank Herbert)
A Tale Of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
A Grain of Wheat (Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o)
Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray)
The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
The Wasp Factory (Iain Banks)
The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
Les Misérables (Victor Hugo)
The Book of Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values AKA ZAMM (Robert M. Pirsig)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As told to Alex Haley)
Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)