100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 14, 2008 · 1,239 comments

in Books, Travel & Leisure

Amazon Listmania: The Essential Man’s Library Part III

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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”

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{ 1216 comments… read them below or add one }

1201 Shmyt March 2, 2014 at 1:31 am

I find it would be prudent to make my recommendations before discussing the article’s:
I would say Joseph Conrad’s works are a must have (if they seem boring when you read the back cover just remember they inspired Apocalypse Now).
The Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind) is the epitome of a great story.
Forever Peace (the spiritual sequel by Joe Haldeman) is excellent and gives a very provoking discussion on war, peace, free will and what they cost.
Neuromancer by William Gibson is a rather small rather difficult to understand book that is an absolute must read.
A Song Of Ice And Fire (yeah…Game of Thrones, the hype is not for nothing, it is an amazing series of novels).
A good Russian author is Yevgeny Zamyatin, his novel We is the forerunner of dystopian literature and a great comment on society.
The full Lord of The Rings trilogy; the hobbit is a good start but it is only a small one; the full trilogy is a wonderful read for any age or degree of manliness.
Dune by Frank Herbert is THE science fiction book to read, if you read only one more fiction book choose dune for its amazing commentary on politics and religion framed with action, intrigue and philosophy (well not just one more, you will be compelled to read the sequels).
Along with the Illiad and Oddysea you should read one of the classic english epic tales: Beowulf
Grendel (John Gardener) it is beowulf from the perspective of the monster, masterfully written and serves as a complete how not to think or live your life guide with humor and philosophy abundant.
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin; you need to know it, everyone does, it is the basis for so much scientific knowledge and research it would be foolish to leave it off of your reading list.
Mercy Among the Children David Adams Richards) this book will test you and might make you very angry or sad, a good read and some good philosophical points.

on Frankenstein: please stop giving everything the holywood green man with bolts in his neck portrayal; at its core Frankenstein is a novel at the very beginning of science fiction asking “what if?” then it shows you the answers; what if a man can be made by a man from men? what would that man be and what would that make me?
Atlas shrugged: I have read nearly every Ayn Rand novel i can find without troubling myself and i detest her work, it seems like a roadmap of a story where you follow along and go”yes yes i understand that” followed by “interesting point, elaborate?” then “hmmm i don’t know about this” “oh yes, that is logical, what?! how dare they!” “that doesn’t make much sense” “okay we are back on track” “wait, what? why did this just end with ‘therefore be a dick to anybody you want.’?” and to 1200 the answer is we fail to see her point because she does not make one that works; simply because stalinist russia was the opposite of what she advises does not make her ideal scenario any better than the USSR.
To kill a mockingbird: you hit the nail on the head with this one; too few people see the ‘n’ word in it too many times and drop it; it is a great work and an absolute must read on the need for good men to step up against all odds.
The Great Gatsby; must read, for anyone, male female, idiot or genius; it is the book that sums up the post war era and it is worth noting that the insights into the life of the rich is one meant to guide and warn, not to tempt.

I could go on much longer but i realise this comment will likely be deleted or lost to time so i’d rather not.

1202 Kyle March 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm

This article sure pushed some serious buttons with the lefties didn’t it? I agree with Marshall that the Ayn Rand haters missed the point of her philosophy and in my opinion those that think she’s a terrible writer are probably just terrible readers and not up to the challenge.

For the sake of adding something of value to the discussion though here are a few books I recommend at every opportunity:

Liberty Defined by Ron Paul
The Fairtax Book by Neil Boortz
The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo

They’re all somewhat political in nature but great reads that have been very eye opening and influential in my life. I would also like to suggest much of the work by Milton Friedman and Noam Chomsky for those interested in developing thought patterns beyond the spoon-fed dribble of state-guided media that we have today.

1203 Bobby March 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

I’m suprised how lists like these always leave out A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burguess. Great book about maturity and becoming a man. Make sure you get the English/Unabridged version with 21 chapters (his american editor convinced him to cut out the 21st and most important chapter).

1204 C March 7, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Great list and I love that everyone shares their favorites…Here’s mine: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.

1205 Casper March 17, 2014 at 6:29 pm

It is a great list. If there is one book I could add it would be A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

1206 Michael March 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Great post. Since this is for men, an must read is: Wild at Heart written by John Eldredge.

1207 Chris Meservey March 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Great list and I was suprised to realize I read a good number of these as a youth. I was happy to see one of my favorite books of all time on there – The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Such a good read. In the spirit of adding a reccomendation I recently read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. A first hand account of a middle aged mans attempt at walking the entire length of the appalachian trail. A great read.

1208 rumspringa March 21, 2014 at 1:44 am

…because it’s just silly to think that a man’s life could be changed by too many female authors! I’m a voracious reader–a college English teacher, even–and a woman who grew up as a reader with The Cider House Rules (John Irving seems like a pretty glaring omission if you’re going to go all butch, btw). Three female authors really makes for an incomplete list. And what in the world is with the TR obsession? Yeah, an interesting life (I bought my Frye boots in part because they’re what he had the rough riders wear.) but seriously, there are other presidents.

1209 Gil March 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

Johnny got his gun.

I too read Atlas Shrugged, and I was deeply moved and saw the world in a different way. But then I turned 15 and realized that I wasn’t the only person on earth.

1210 JLV March 26, 2014 at 9:06 pm

I am wondering why The Old Man and the Sea didn’t make this list.

1211 Juan March 27, 2014 at 1:49 am

I might have missed it, but what about Thucydides’ “The History of the Peloponnesian War?”

1212 Loukay March 31, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Young Men and Fire

1213 Evan S. March 31, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Well, at age 16 I’m glad to have at least read 14 of the books on the list, but I do need to buckle down and continue my literary education. I was glad to see The Art of War, and suggest adding Tao te Ching, The Old Man and the Sea, The Trial and Death of Socrates, The Poetic Edda and Gates of Fire to the list.

1214 Evan S. March 31, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Also forgot to mention Noam Chomsky…his work has influenced my political philosophy more than any other thinker.

1215 Derek C April 7, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are great books. I agree that her “philosophy” can be tough to swallow, but I also agree that most of our motives boil down to selfishness/self interest. If you are completely honest with yourself, you have to agree.

It is hard to add to this list, most of my favorite books are on here.
How about Beowulf. It is a great story, and one of the oldest examples of european folklore and story telling. A glimpse into pre-christian european history.

1216 Daniel April 8, 2014 at 7:06 pm

they should add Think and grow rich by Napolean Hill to this list

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