Set on the East Coast in the roaring 20′s, this American novel is a classic. From it we learn that often the wanting of something is better than actually having it. It is relevant to every man’s life. 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.”
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, Machiavelli advocates letting your people have their property and women, but making sure that they know what you are capable of doing if they step out of line.
Through the beloved Billy Pilgrim, we see the central themes of Vonnegut’s humanism along with his satirical take on how disgusting it is when humans don’t use their (limited) free will to prevent simple atrocities. A great example of how we use humor to deal with hardship, and the conflict between the way heroism is conveyed through stories for actions in situations that perhaps could have been avoided altogether.
“So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.”
If you are already worried about the information that your computer is collecting from you, re-read this one and you will feel much better! Or, perhaps, you will throw your computer in a river. This is the classic text for the will of the individual to maintain his privacy and free will, and how easy it is at the end of it all to just try to blend in and go with the flow to avoid making things even worse by speaking out.
“But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
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.
The final work of Dostoevsky (commonly accepted English spelling of the name) has a lot of meat to chew on…it strikes at the core of who we are and what drives us. Ultimately, for all of our strength and wisdom as individuals, we are often frustrated by our failures to do what we know we must do (or at least think we should do) and need the power of forgiveness in our lives. Many important thinkers consider this to be one of (if not the most) important masterpiece of literature, including Sigmund Freud and Franz Kafka (who did not think quite alike, to say the least).
“So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find some one to worship.”
Holden Caufield, 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 identify with him, you need to find some more joy, somehow…fake it ’til you make it. Do something.
The fundamental work on free market policies: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” Want an education in economics? This book is a great start.
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.
“You learned the dry-mouthed, fear-purged purging ecstasy of battle and 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.”
Arguably the best work from the ever-quotable Wilde, this novel is a guide for how to live 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.
One of the most controversial books of its time, the Joads are “Okies” who head west to the fertile valleys of California during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. Because of the social solutions that the book proposed, and its depiction of work camp conditions, some groups attacked the novel as communist propaganda. However, it was widely read as a result of the national attention, and is a classic example of a man doing what he had to do for his family and persevering through all plights and conditions.
“Fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live – for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken…fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.”
With a revolutionary and controversial view of the future, Huxley’s satiric take on the “utopia” of tomorrow has provoked reader’s thoughts for decades. Depictions of genetically enhanced embryos predisposed to a specific social class cast warning signs for technological interference with human life.
This is not a Dr. Phil self-help book. Citing intimate examples from the likes of Rockefeller, Charles Schwab and FDR, this comprehensive guide is all about how to get ahead in business, relationships and life. Read one chapter a day for the rest of your life. It will make you a far better man than you would ever be without it.
The tale of a domesticated dog forced to adapt to a life of work in Alaska during the Yukon gold rush. Most of us can recall rooting for Buck in the ferocious battle to be the leader of the pack. Make sure that you embrace the benefits of competition to push yourself to become better in your work, but do it without biting and/or killing co-workers.
“…men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal…These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost.”
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt shows what made Theodore Roosevelt the great man he was. Reading this book will inspire you to get off the couch and start moving in your life. Harvard graduate, New York Assemblyman, rancher, historian, author of several books, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, and commanding officer of the Rough Riders are all titles that TR had before he became president at 42.
Every boy can stand to learn a bit of old fashioned resourcefulness from their pops. Finding yourself on a deserted island is surely the way to learn these skills in a hurry. Tree forts, treasure hunting, and constant adventure mark the Swiss Family’s 10 year run. Lesson number one? Shipwrecks make for some good literature.
An idealistic vision from the man who fueled the Beat Generation, a life on the road without concern for wealth or even stability, rather an enjoyment of surroundings, whatever they may be. This is a great book for reminding us to get away from technology, at least for a day, to appreciate nature and some of the more simple pleasures of life. Don’t feel inferior to the beatniks if you still like driving your car…don’t ever let hipsters give you guilt trips.
“I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream…”
Though the authorship is disputed, the place of these two epics in the man canon is not. Roughly based around the events of the Trojan War, these poems are likely a great collection of common Greek folklore surrounding the events in those days of fierce political turmoil. It is rumored that there were 10 epics in all, and 8 were lost over time. This may be a blessing in disguise, because, if they were around, you would never get to the rest of this list.
The logic here is simple: any book which has the influence to have coined terminology commonly used in our society for decades on end should be perused based solely on principle. Nothing is worse than a man being caught using language of which he is unfamiliar with its proper meaning or origin. Also, it is a great book.
A bit of isolation never hurt any man. Thoreau spent two years, two months and two days writing this book in Walden, a cabin tucked deep in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. This work of non-fiction describes the changing of the seasons over the course of a year and was intended to give the author an escape from society in order to achieve a more objective point of view. A real man would take this sabbatical himself, but the book should suffice for those of you who are employed.
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.
There is nothing more manly than a bout with the Devil. An entertaining commentary on the atheistic social bureaucracy in Moscow in the 1930′s wherein Lucifer himself pays the town a visit to make light of their skepticism regarding the spiritual realm.
“As a result he decided to abandon the main thoroughfares and make his way through the side streets and back alleys where people were less nosy, and there was less chance that a barefoot man would be pestered about long johns that stubbornly refused to look like trousers.”
Written as the autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, of course with Vonnegut’s own war experiences drawn upon as inspiration to the aging artist who narrates his own story. It is a hilarious take on abstract art, and takes jabs at both the inflated self-importance of the artist and the people who simply refuse to look beneath the surface.
“My soul knows my meat is doing bad things, and is embarrassed. But my meat just keeps right on doing bad, dumb things.”
Exploring the “virtue” of living for ourselves, this monster of a book (1,084 pages in my version) is certainly worth plowing through as it is simply a great story. The fundamental concept is that our world falls apart when individuals stop seeking their own satisfaction through personal achievement and feel a sense of entitlement to the accomplishments and work of others. This book challenges us on many levels…you may find it conflicting with your value of other people, her treatment of God, or any other beliefs you already hold. Yet, who can argue with “The most depraved type of human being … (is) the man without a purpose.”
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.
None of us want this to happen. Well, most of us don’t. Kafka employed terms from law and politics, and was always concerned about some vague, oppressive bureaucracy that sought his ruin, though seeming cool and detached. We can take something from the very approach of Kafka to his work and find a balance between reading too much meaning into an event and, on the contrary, caring too little and being completely disillusioned.
Just like The DaVinci Code, but on hallucinogenic mushrooms…and written 30 years prior. A psychedelic story of a wandering musical troupe that settle down to open “Captain Kendrick’s Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve,” and somehow get mixed up with the Vatican. The motto:
“The principal difference between an adventurer and a suicide is that the adventurer leaves himself a margin of escape (the narrower the margin, the greater the adventure).”
This National Book Award winner was more right on in 1985 than Delillo could have possibly known. The drug Dylar is the supposed answer to man’s fear of death, yet causes users to lose their minds. This is an extremely enjoyable read, particularly relevant and funny in its examination of how people act in a climate of fear (hello Homeland Security) and under a “hail of bullets” from advertisers and imaginary enemies alike. The lesson: secretly hold out for the wonder drug and/or fountain of youth, but live each day like it might be your last…in a good way…and still show up to work unless you really, really know it is your last day on earth.
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.
The Young Man’s Guide is a 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.
This Western novel written in 1985 is not only considered to be McCarthy’s personal masterpiece, but also one of the greatest books of the 20th century. As the title suggests, the story is marked by extreme violence and contains many religious references. Isn’t that what the history of man is all about?
Through a collection of short stories that take you from a Bikers for Jesus convention to the 13 year olds with semi-automatic machine guns in Liberia, Johnson uses rich prose to examine the role of a man as a potted plant, observing his surroundings and soaking it up. In this story, horrific violence in seeming other worlds contrasts with the comparatively safe process of self-discovery in different U.S. subcultures. This will absolutely open your eyes to the simultaneous beauty and horror of our world, and remarkably, he does it without sounding condescending, jaded and bitter…he is just there, and you will absolutely see everything that he sees.
“In the Ogaden, life comes hard, but these have won through yet another day, unlike all the others they’ve lost to sickness, famine, massacres, battles. The villagers sit close together, everyone touching someone else, steeped in a contentment that seems, at this moment, perpetual. It occurs to the writer that the secret way to happiness is in knowing a lot of dead people.”
One of the most amazing aspects of this masterpiece is that it was written by Dostoevsky as part of his resolve to deal with some serious financial hardships. The lesson isn’t to quit your job and write that novel you’ve been meaning to write…but many of us can relate to that sense of personal ambition and pride in the face of fear and financial stress. Again, take the moral lessons from the characters’ mistakes, don’t model your life after them.
“‘Oh God, how loathsome it all is! and can I, can I possibly….No, it’s nonsense, it’s rubbish!’ he added resolutely. ‘And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head? What filthy things my heart is capable of.’”
…Ah, the classic moral dilemma arising from something as simple as a justified murder.
The mysterious drifter is always an intriguing protagonist. One of Hesse’s best known works, Steppenwolf gained much popularity through the Beat and hippy genenerations of the 50′s and 60′s which related to his common theme of search for spirituality outside the boundaries of society.
An example of what we can learn about being better men from the perspective of a woman. She wrote this classic in the 15th Century, a time period not known as the peak of gender equality. Of course, we can project this into our work and not use the text as the foundation to build a neighborhood militia group.
“No one is afraid to do what he is confident of having learned well. A small force which is highly trained in the conflicts of war is more apt to victory: a raw and untrained horde is always exposed to slaughter.”
Written in the 6th Century, this has been one of the most influential texts in strategy and planning, especially emphasizing an ability to adapt to changing circumstances and environments rather than having a rigid plan and staying the course through to disaster.
“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
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 glisters 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.”
This one is tough, because you want it but you don’t…but a wise friend once said, upon being flattered for his world travels “yeah, well you go to all these places always knowing that one day you will come back to somewhere.” We all have friends who are, or some of us may be personally, drifters, soaking up each place like a sponge, and then leaving for the next whistlestop. It is the classic battle between stability/same vs. mobility/change. In the end, the self-centered opting out of human interaction might not be quite as romantic as you hoped. All good things in proportion dear friends. His realization (“Happiness Only Real When Shared”) is the great counter-balance to that primitive urge to walk alone into the wild. Or at least think about the fact that snow melts, and rivers get higher.
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.
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.”
Roosevelt’s own account of his experience commanding the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. A great war history from a man who lived it himself. From his account, a man can learn what it means to be a true leader. TR set the example for his men and they followed because they simply respected him.
Considered by Steinbeck himself to be the work that he had been preparing for throughout his entire life. If you have had the chance to read this, or if anyone has ever talked about this book to you…perhaps you have been graced to read or even hear an excerpt from the legendary opening to Chapter 13:
Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite[...]Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.
Written during the English Civil War, Hobbes’ work is one of the foremost authorities in political theory and contributed greatly to Enlightenment philosophy. Leviathan’s primary concern is the centralized power of the sovereign state existing to maintain order and peace both within and without. A valuable resource, as a man never knows when he is going to be commissioned with the task of forming a new government.
“In the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”
The author’s fictional depiction of the Guadalcanal Campaign during WW2. Portraying various wartime activities most would consider repulsive, Jones gives account without judgment. With the current events of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, this work is very relevant today.
A satirical depiction of the social climate in the South just before the turn of the century, “Huck Finn” is largely considered to be the first Great American Novel. Twain’s take on the issue of racism and slavery was initially criticized upon publication and remains largely controversial to this day.
From the man that gave pointers to Alexander the Great we can all take note. 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.”
This is the book that started the Boy Scout movement. If you’re a former Boy Scout, you’ll be amazed at the amount of useful information the first edition manual has compared to Scout manuals today. In edition to teaching essential scouting skills, the first edition of the Boy Scout Handbook also includes stories of adventure and bravery that will excite and inspire any man.
A poet, musician and expert swordsman. That is a true Renaissance Man. Unfortunately, Cyrano had a tragically large nose which affected his confidence enough to keep him from professing his love for the fair Roxanne, even on his deathbed. I wasn’t exaggerating when I used the word “tragic.” Also, one must respect the play responsible for introducing the word “panache” to the English language.
For its honest and graphic depiction of sex, this book was deemed “pornographic” by state courts upon its New York publishing in 1961. This ruling, however, was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and the book became very influential in the sexual revolution of the 60′s and 70′s.
A fictional Civil War era romance between a New England lawyer and a southern belle, written by the “American Churchill” but often mistaken for the British Prime Minister who shared the same name. Out of respect for the American’s work, the British Churchill offered to add his middle initial to any of his own published writings to avoid confusion.
There are the books you read, and then there are the books that change your life. We can all look back on the books that have shaped our perspective on politics, religion, money, and love. Some will even become a source of inspiration for the rest of your life. From a seemingly infinite list of books of anecdotal or literal merit, we have narrowed down the top 100 books that have shaped the lives of individual men while also helping define broader cultural ideas of what it means to be a man.
Whether it be a book on adventure, war, or manners, there is so much to learn about life’s great questions from these gems. Let us know in the comments which of these you loved, hated, and the books that meant a lot to you and should have made the list (you can even get really indignant about your favorite book). And without further ado, this is our list.