Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A classic from our youth, the main character (Brian) deals with his parents’ strained relationship by fleeing into the wilderness for a sort of accidental, self-inflicted rite of passage. Perhaps the greatest pearl of wisdom comes early in the book, foreshadowing his quest for survival:
“All flying is easy. Just takes learning. Like everything else. Like everything else.”
Animal Farm by George Orwell
An advanced politics lesson under the guise of a childish farm tale. The allegorical story representing Soviet totalitarianism simplifies social systems to show the endless corruption and manipulation that stems from the struggle for power. Also, it takes no small amount of courage to take jabs at Mr. Stalin himself.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Gentleman? No. Man? Most certainly. Having been raised by apes gives our protagonist more than a leg up on the competition when it comes to survival skills. He was a pretty big hit with the ladies as well. Originally published in the All-Story Magazine in 1912, Tarzan of the Apes led to 23 sequels and many more depictions of the famous character in various other forms of media.
Beyond Good and Evil by Freidrich Nietzsche
With his denunciation of philosophers before him as lacking critical thought and mindlessly adhering to Christian tenets, Nietzsche took philosophy beyond religion, thus founding the Existentialist Movement. Questioning even the most basic of truths, Nietzsche writes that “from every point of view the erroneousness of the world in which we believe we live is the surest and firmest thing we can get our eyes on.” Staging a complete overhaul of the philosophical landscape is beyond ambitious and worthy of your attention. No matter what your beliefs, it is good to examine why you believe what you believe without fear of what you might discover.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison
Composed of 85 articles, The Federalist Papers served to explain and encourage ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The majority of the essays were penned by Hamilton and published in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet. It is rumored that Hamilton used up most of his wisdom in the writing process, as he later lost his life in a duel, which is essentially two men in close proximity firing bullets at each other without trying to get out of the way.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
If you ever find yourself on a boat in search of a savage beast, and you encounter a boat that is looking for some of their missing friends that seem to have been attacked by that same whale that you are looking for, take a minute and think. Cost: Possibly your life. Benefit: You kill a big whale. AND you get some serious props.
“By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.”
Essential Manners for Men by Peter Post
Lay to rest all situational conundrums you encounter in daily life. From hosting guests to appropriate behavior at social events, Post’s pointers enable a gentleman to deal with any difficult scenario with confidence and poise.
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Before you get too excited about having your clone or some other cyborg cleaning your house and picking up the dry cleaning…just remember that the cost of the convenience might be the life of your brother, your wife, your friend, and eventually when you track the rogue creature down, you will come really close to revenge but just get sick and die. And to top it off, somehow people will dress up as the beast and also feel sympathy towards him, because it wasn’t even his fault that he was created. He just wanted to be loved by his creator, and when he didn’t get it, he went crazy. Just have kids and tell them to clean your house, and love them so that they don’t act like the monster.
Hamlet by Shakespeare
The longest of Shakespeare’s plays, it is a tragedy that has been remade repeatedly, and with good reason as it explores the depths of man’s desire for revenge. 400 years after it was written, it is still powerful enough to make us root for Hamlet to avenge his father’s death, even as some superior morality might call for mercy.
- “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
- Rough-hew them how we will.”
The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
What is a man’s library without some literature on America’s favorite pastime? Dubbed “The finest American book on sports,” The Boys of Summer is an account of the Brooklyn Dodgers leading up to their 1955 World Series victory. Kahn’s depiction of some of the game’s greatest legends like Gil Hodges and Duke Snyder is so inspiring to make a man desire another shot on the diamond.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A classic coming-of-age story about two boys, set around the time of the Second World War. Dealing with one of the boy’s jealousy of another, and the tragic accident resulting from it, the novel mourns and reflects on the specific moment when all innocence is lost. After all, a boy cannot go on thinking life is about ice cream and tree forts forever.
A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Written from the perspective of Lieutenant “Tenente” Frederic Henry it is a novel of epic manly proportions. As an American ambulance driver with the Italian army in WWI, Henry is injured by a mortar and while in the infirmary falls in love with his British nurse, Catherine Barkley. After healing and having impregnated nurse Barkley, Henry returns to his unit, only to narrowly escape fratricide. Henry goes AWOL and he and his bird flee to neutral Switzerland where they live a peaceful existence until Barkley dies during childbirth. In typical Hemingway fashion, he mourns her death by simply walking back to his hotel in the rain.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Perhaps the most popular piece of 20th century “existential” literature. The Stranger addresses murder and remorse (or lack thereof), God and atheism, destiny and justice, and consequently, indifference. Camus’ anti-hero, Meursault is perhaps the ultimate man — unable to cry at his own funeral, and one of the final lines of the novel reads, “… I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” Camus gets a special nod for his manliness for being an active member in the French Resistance during WWII. And you probably thought no Frenchmen would be on this list.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe
Robinson Crusoe deals with mastery and morality. It addresses the ability of mankind to master his surroundings through hard work, and patience and faith, which eventually enable him to survive on an
unknown island and able to cope with the difficult terrain, less-than-friendly natives and basically every wicked trial that comes his way. The morality addressed in this book is the eponymous protagonist’s rejection of his father’s advice to accept the happiness of the middle class life from which he was born. Against the wishes of his family, he runs off to sea to find adventure. It is not until Crusoe literally recreates a primitive approximation of that middle class life for himself on his island that he is freed.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
A story about the ill-fate of a poor pearl diver, Kino and his wife and infant. The Pearl starts with Kino’s son Coyotito having been stung by a scorpion, and being as though they are so poor, Kino has to dive to find a pearl to sell in-order to pay for his son’s medical attention. After finding the largest Pearl known to his region, word spreads and everyone is after his score. Eventually his son recovers naturally and the fate of the Pearl consumes the entire region, including Kino. Kino does all he can to protect his beloved family while fleeing north to sell the pearl for a better life for them. Eventually, a bounty hunter’s stray bullet kills his son, and upon realizing the misfortune this great treasure brought him Kino hurls it back into the sea. A melancholy ending yes, an endorsement of socialism perhaps…but as a reflection of what a man will do for his family, it is pretty spot-on.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The stream of consciousness drifting (see the 120 foot long manuscript scroll above) has helped us experience that sacred institution of just going, and using our own language to experience the rapid unfolding of a new town as a rich flash in a pan. Lucky for all of us, he has saved us the trouble of popping Benzedrine for 3 weeks and experiencing our own mad visions, and we can simply join his world without ferociously grinding our teeth (though Kerouac said it was made possible by coffee alone). If you haven’t read it, get it now please. If you have, you know that you will never complain about a long drive again, whether alone or with the boys.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Aside from the frilly shirts, I don’t think there was anything more masculine than pirates up until Tom Selleck’s birth. Stevenson’s creation of Treasure Island has forever changed our view of the pirate world. His secret maps marked with an ‘X’ and hidden gold have enchanted readers for over a century.
“Here it is about gentlemen of fortune. They lives rough, and they risk swinging, but they eat and drink like fighting-cocks, and when a cruise is done, why, it’s hundreds of pounds instead of hundreds of farthings in their pockets.”
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
First published in 1980, 11 years after the author’s suicide, this New Orleans-based novel went on to win Toole the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. A perfect comedy of errors centered around the character of Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy and socially ignorant, but intelligent man who still lives with his mother at the age of 30. This book serves as a guide for what a man ought not to be, while providing sound entertainment all the while.
Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco first published this work in 1988, which tells the story of three friends who create their own historical conspiracy to entertain themselves. “The Plan” becomes more intelligent and complex, and they begin to make believers of others, and even themselves. As they become wrapped up in a series of events beyond their control, the book displays the inherent credulity of man. Getting lost in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” that becomes a reality is every grown boy’s dream.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
In this unique odyssey, Theroux recounts his journey through Europe, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia on the continent’s fabled trains — the Orient Express, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express and the Trans-Siberian Express. His well-documented and entertaining adventures have come to be considered a classic in the travel literature genre. This journal satisfies the vicarious traveler and inspires the adventurous man.
Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
In this book Kierkegard creates a case study from the famous bible story (Genesis 22) from when Abraham is famously commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Kierkegaard uses the story as an opportunity to question the philosophy of religion, the relationship between philosophy and religion, the nature of God and faith, faith’s relationship with ethics and morality, and the difficulty of being authentically religious. It is manly to ask questions about the bigger things – there is more to life than sports.
Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
Undaunted Courage is a compelling account of the Lewis and Clark expedition through the Louisiana Territory. The book is thoroughly researched and extremely well written. The bravery and courage of the explorers should inspire any man.
Paradise Lost by John Milton
John Milton’s Paradise Lost is a timeless hard-to-read classic. Its imagery has shaped how the Western world views Christianity, sin, the fall, life, death, heaven, and hell. Unlike many of his predecessors, Milton concentrated on more humanist elements. Reading Milton might or might not change your view of God and man, but absorbing him will change your love of language. The words are vivid and powerful and beg to be read aloud.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
A man, no matter his class or situation, needs a healthy appreciation for the simple folk. The working class; the laborers compose the backbone of society. Steinbeck’s Cannery Row depicts a cross-section of this community, located on a strip of sardine canneries, in the late Depression era. This area has a life of its own, and is as much a character of the book as any of the community members themselves. The novel not only paints a picture of a difficult time that has passed, but gives honest insight into the human condition that is timeless.
“Because he loved true things he tried to explain”