Having a load of hobbies is marvelous, as is being able to dead lift 500 lbs. but being well-read expands your mind, improves your intellect, and deepens you in a way that a life full of activity never will. A pile of books, any books, are food for the imagination and will enhance your cognitive prowess. As the best soldier is a thinking soldier, so too is the best man one with a fertile mind that can reason and extrapolate. If you haven’t at least tried to find the best reading material out there, then you are falling down on the job.
We confess that any list claiming to have the best books for men is going to be partial, opinion-based, incomplete, and biased. But we went ahead and did it anyway so that you can at least begin your transformation into a cerebral reader, if it hasn’t already begun. Check out 50 of our favorites below.
On the Road
by Jack Kerouac – Considered the magnum opus of the beat generation this is the novel of living beyond society, outside of the law, in a world where the open road is revered. Drugs, sex, and jazz run rampant in this compelling tale of living as an outsider in 1950’s America, a place and time that shuns the non-conformist.
A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole –Following the misadventures of the hapless Ignatius J. Reilly as he goes through a series of demeaning, degrading, and menial jobs, A Confederacy of Dunces shows a Dickensian world full of rich and strange characters that is at once hilarious and woeful. Any wage slave – former or current – will be able to relate to the plight of the protagonist, while any man will be able to see some of himself in this story of life under the yoke of capitalism.
by Niccolo Machiavelli & N.H. Thompson –For such a slender volume, there is an enormous amount of information packed in the pages of The Prince. This is where the notion of the ends justifying the means came from, and it lays out the sociopathic groundwork all too common in modern politics, business, and day to day life.
The Art of War
by Sun Tzu –While it is doubtful you will ever command an army, it is likely you will be riding into combat, be it a debate over your most sacrosanct beliefs, vying for a raise, or an argument with your spouse. Learn the mental and emotional states that will make you a better warrior, whatever your field of battle.
The Tao Te Ching
by Laozi –Here is where the quest for inner peace begins. The Tao – roughly translated to “The Way” – is the path which will allow a man to walk without fear, find compassion even in letting go, and live in harmony with all of existence. It is the guidebook to achieving greatness through acceptance.
by Plato –Touted as the philosopher’s Bible, The Republic is arguably the most important of Plato’s works, and the foundation for most methods of western thought. It paints the picture of an idyllic world that may or may not be entirely satirical. Every dystopian and utopian novel has its roots in The Republic and as you read it, you are sure to see the marrow that connects it to everyday existence, even thousands of years later.
The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger –An incomparable example of adolescence seen through the eyes of rebellious teenager Holden Caulfield, it’s impossible for any man over the age of 18 to not see parts of himself in this book. The finest coming of age story a boy could have, it is the bridge every adult man crosses as he puts away childish things.
The More than Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams –A space opera that turns science and the genre of science fiction on its ear, this is the complete series by Douglas Adams, undisputed master of the sci-fi comedy. The humor comes fast from every direction with both glib, subtle jibes and overt preposterousness that will give you intense belly laughs as often as sly smirks.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde –The sole novel penned by Oscar Wilde, this tells of Dorian Gray, a young man who is ruining himself body and soul with debauchery, abuse, and sensuality. Though he remains physically unmarred by his mistreatment of himself, his portrait bears the woes and scars of his life, which he must forever hide from the world, and from his own eyes.
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess –Written by Anthony Burgess in a slang entirely of his own making, A Clockwork Orange asks whether a man can truly be good if he is never given the choice to do evil. Alex, the vicious anti-hero, commits untold heinousness time and again, only to be captured and reprogrammed to forced goodness that leaves him helpless in his own cruel world.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain –An incisive look at nature vs. the patina of civility by master satirist Mark Twain, this is the American novel from which all others are thought to be derived. Witty dialog runs throughout, along with the underlying message that on some level, every man is a slave and freedom is an illusion.
The Iliad / The Odyssey
by Homer –Before heroes wore tights and fought crime, they were epic myths where larger than life men fought alongside gods. See the inception of the terms “Achilles Heel” and “Trojan Horse” while following a mesmerizing yarn of war, love, deceit, family, suffering, and redemption.
by Joseph Heller –There’s very little funny about war, yet Joseph Heller has managed to find every laugh that can be wrung out of no-win situations, sharing a tent with a dead man, and the hypocrisy of bureaucracy. As hideous and tragic as it is playful and mocking, you’ll be pulled in every emotional direction as you follow the plight of men who live with the reality of death every day.
by Ayn Rand –Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is on full display in The Fountainhead as she explores finding meaning through fruitful labor and discovering your vision in a world that seeks to destroy it. She poignantly strives to show how conformity is the mark of a weak soul while individuality is the only thing worth fighting for in a place that tells you to stay with the pack, make no waves, and never think for yourself.
by James Joyce –The line between genius and madness is very thin, and you’ll be hard pressed to determine which one besets James Joyce as you read Ulysses. Strange while both exotic and familiar, this is modernism at its best and worst. If you can avoid throwing it across the room, you’ll find yourself much changed by the experience.
The Wealth Of Nations
by Adam Smith –Published in the same year that the United States mailed its Declaration of Independence to King George, this is still one of the foremost books on economics ever published. It shows how a free market should be run, allowing true competition where both buyer and seller emerge victorious from every deal.
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky –One of the foremost books on murder, Crime and Punishment is a psychological thriller that shows how morality and intellectualism can often be at odds as a conflicted young killer finds himself hunted down for his ruthless killing of an elderly pawnbroker. It’s a treatise on the struggle – and often the vacillation – between good and evil in each of us.
by Albert Camus –The Stranger is an unusual book wherein a pointless murder is not the primary focus, but rather highlights the main character’s indifference to life and death. One of the foremost books on existentialism, The Stranger paints the life we have in any moment as the only reality that matters and all else as merely a fantasy that we devise.
by Miguel De Cervantes –Don Quixote is a man on a quest, even though that quest is entirely in his own mind. He is a knight errant who sets out to fight giants and rescue maidens atop his mighty steed, a beloved squire his only companion. Except, he’s doing none of those things. In brilliant comedic light, Don Quixote asks us to decide how useful and beneficial reality is when compared to happiness.
by Gary Paulsen –A young man finds himself suddenly stranded in the Canadian wilderness with naught but his hatchet to keep him alive. As Brian, the main character, is caught in a fight for his life, he is simultaneously struggling with ugly secrets and the difficulties of any boy on the cusp of manhood.
by John Milton –This is the gorgeous story of the fall of man from the garden of Eden as seen by John Milton. It questions the meaning of life, of good and evil, and of individuality when pitted against tyranny. Gorgeous language paints an unusual and challenging portrait of western religion that should not be missed by men of any faith, or lack thereof.
The Rough Riders
by JTheodore Roosevelt –The Rough Riders is an account by President Theodore Roosevelt of the first volunteer cavalry of the United States. Here, the President himself tells of their involvement in the Spanish-American war in a way that is heartfelt, engaging, and shows the mark of true bravery as men lay down their lives for their country.
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald –Obsession, crime, and opulence collide in this seminal work on the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a love story of a kind that is as much about greed as it is the unfulfilled longing that sits in the heart of even those men who seem able to have everything they could want.
The Naked and The Dead
by Norman Mailer –Considered by many to be the most apt representation of the horrors inherent in World War II, The Naked and The Dead uses a journalistic style to give the account of a platoon of foot soldiers entrenched in battle in the Land of the Rising Sun. Brutally real and decidedly human, this is as close to war as many will ever wish to come.
The Jefferson Bible
by Thomas Jefferson –Whether faithful or not, The Jefferson Bible is both a challenge and a celebration of modern religion. In it, America’s third president cuts and pastes together only the words of Christ from the 4 gospels. It is the teachings and sermons of Jesus distilled down to their purest form.
by Charles Dickens –Semi-autobiographical, David Copperfield is Charles Dicken’s account of a young man growing up impoverished during a time when being poor was only slightly worse than being dead. Historically true and oddly hopeful, it’s the original rags to riches tale.
The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas –The Count of Monte Cristo is a condemnation of revenge as much as it is a how-to guide for anyone seeking vengeance for the wrongs done to them. It follows The Count from his wrongful imprisonment by his dearest friend to his righteous resurgence against those who betrayed him.
by Orson Scott Card –Ender is a child genius who is sent to play a deadly game of tactics against the most brutal of his peers. Trained to be a commander of men, Ender’s brilliant mind is used and exploited by powers beyond his control to play a game with unthinkable stakes where the price for failure is unthinkable.
by Don Delillo –The modern world is filled with advertisements, consumerist propaganda, and tons of misinformation pumped out through every screen and speaker available. But what if that noise pollution took the form of a toxic event that threatened humanity itself? White Noise answers that question.
The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway –Rife with angst, The Sun Also Rises is the first novel by Ernest Hemingway. It displays the Lost Generation’s discontentment and feeling of unease after the first World War showed how tenuous peace could be and challenged young men to find themselves in a world constantly on edge.
The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien –The films of Peter Jackson are a fine introduction to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, but they in no way capture the richness of his prose. Even if you aren’t a fan of fantasy, these are an indulgence that will make you feel like a kid again and follow one of the most timeless stories of friendship, sacrifice, and facing your most dire fears.
by Alan Moore –Watchmen imagines a world of the 1980’s where the Doomsday Clock is just minutes from midnight and nuclear annihilation seems imminent. In this world, costumed superheroes are being hunted down and it’s impossible to know who or what is the greatest threat to humankind’s existence.
Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck –Probably one of the most emulated works, Of Mice and Men is an example of what friendship means between hard men during hard times. Following a pair of laborers as they try to make enough cash just to eat, it’s at times funny, sad, and suspenseful. A true example of a subsistence life of back-breaking work.
by George Orwell –The premier work of dystopian literature, 1984 is George Orwell’s vision of a future where governmental control is absolute. Not only is it a disturbing fiction, but parallels many real truths of life today in ways that are sickening.
by William Gibson –The novel that launched the cyber-punk genre, Neuromancer is the font from which springs most Japanese anime, dark looks at technology, and it shows the path mankind is on as our technological marvels start to outdistance our humanity.
The Once and Future King
by Terence Hanbury White –Surprisingly jovial, this follows the legend of King Arthur from his time as Wart to meeting Merlin and rising to become leader of Camelot. Either an adult children’s story or a childish adult story, anyone who has devoured the Harry Potter series will find The Once and Future King an enchanting and entrenching read.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
by Hunter S. Thompson –An orgy of narcotics, this is the vision of the modern American Dream as seen through the booze and drug-fueled haze of Hunter S. Thompson. Immortally satirical, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas shows all too aptly what most people do with their liberty in the land of the free.
by Richard Adams –Once you get past that it is a story about bunnies, you’ll see that it is not at all a story about bunnies. It’s about oppression, technology, faith, camaraderie, bravery, and the feeling of home. Few books are quite as human as this fable of rabbits.
by Kurt Vonnegut –The hardest part to believe about Slaughterhouse Five is not the hallucinations or the aliens, it’s the monstrous behavior of mankind during times of war. Through the eyes of everyman Billy Pilgrim, you’ll see the time that England and the United States dropped thousands of tons of explosives on the city of Dresden.
by Ralph Ellison –Not the H.G. Wells book, but rather a look at a young black man growing up in the south, attending University, and ultimately becoming part of the “Brotherhood” in Harlem. Invisible Man is a shocking revelation of race relations in the U.S. that’s as topical today as it was when it was written.
by Upton Sinclair –Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle shows how the industrial revolution changed the lives of both immigrants and the meat industry. A disturbing and all-too-true story about the working poor in industrial cities, this will shock and educate you on the broken backs and blood, sweat, and tears on which the U.S. was built.
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen –Part of being a man is understanding women, and there is no book more helpful for that than Pride and Prejudice. Knowing the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy will make you wise in the ways of a woman’s heart, and give you more than a few laughs along the way.
Friends and Influence People
by Dale Carnegie –Learn from the manual each of the simple steps for dealing with other people, gaining wealth, success, and notoriety in both your business and personal life. You’ll no longer be another sucker running on his wheel, but the master of your own social destiny.
A Brief History of Time
by Stephen Hawking –Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest minds of this generation and his work in the world of physics continues to shock and amaze. While comprehending his body of work in its entirety is almost impossible, you can get the broad strokes with A Brief History of Time.
Into the Wild
by Random House –If you have any off-the-grid survivalist fantasies of living off nothing but your wits and whatever you can stuff in a bug out bag, read Into the Wild. It’s about a young man who did just that, and then died horribly.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
by Robert M. Pirsig –Take a philosophical ride across country as you see a brilliant philosopher struggle with his identity even as he explains values in a style far more accessible, but no less poignant, than Nietzsche ever managed.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
by Malcolm X, Alex Haley & Attallah Shabazz –Muslim and civil rights leader Malcolm X is no less controversial today than he was 60 years ago, but the story of his life and his message is one that people of all colors should learn and learn from.
by Paulo Coelho –Following the fanciful journey of a young man as he seeks his fortune, The Alchemist shows how much more valuable love, knowledge, wisdom, and people can be than all the worldly wealth even a poor boy can imagine.
The Federalist Papers
by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison & John Jay –First published when the Constitution of the United States was still being debated, this is a series of letters penned by some of the founding fathers asking Americans to ratify their new law of the land. It is a revelatory look at the very first years that there was an America, and the men who helped it to take shape.
Think and Grow Rich
by Napoleon Hill –The original book for motivating people to take life by the horns and become the master of their own destiny, Think and Grow Rich has launched a thousand motivational speaking careers. Don’t bother with imitations or pretenders to the throne. Get the low down on what truly makes a winner right from the source with this tome.