Written in 1890, the American Boys Handy Book is filled with different activities a boy can do during each season. Activities include kite making, how to make to make blow guns, and bird watching. This book is an excellent resource for dads who want to provide their sons entertainment that doesn’t involve video games.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
This book details the author’s fateful ascent up Mt. Everest in which eight other climbers were killed in a storm. Perhaps the most inspiring story is that of one climber who was left for dead, but awakened 12 hours after being abandoned and hiked back to camp in sub-zero weather. This man is an example to all men that when the will of survival is strong enough, a man can overcome any obstacle.
King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
The author wrote King Solomon’s Mines specifically for boys. The story follows English explorers who penetrate the deepest part of Africa to find the treasure of King Solomon. 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.
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Our protagonist here, Myshkin, is an example of a selfless love, moving to marry a woman to save her from falling into the arms of Rogozhin, who represents darkness. Remind any of you good ol’ boys of that girl in high school who kept running back to the man who didn’t deserve her affections? Well, in this case, the girl runs back to Rogozhin, who, in spite of and perhaps because of his deep passion, rewarded her by…killing her. Myshkin is considered the “idiot” because of his innocence and trust in the best of humanity as it could be, and in the end, his optimism and love for humanity are his undoing in the face of a dark, materialistic society. The lesson: don’t marry a woman to save her from another man…although, come to think of the end of Super Mario Bros…
A River Runs Through It by Norman F. Maclean
You’ve seen the movie, now read the book that inspired it. This book is an American classic. A River Runs Through It follows an older brother’s attempt to save his talented brother from self destruction in one last fly fishing trip. Set in Montana’s beautiful Blackfoot River country, the author fills the story with vivid descriptions of fishing and nature that engages the reader to ponder important life questions. From the story we learn that sometimes the people we love the most are the hardest to help.
“So it is…that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.”
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
The haphazard discovery of scientifically engineered half-human, half-animals on a remote island is an experience that has the potential to put some hair on your chest. Living with the “Beast Folk” for a year then returning to life as normal in London proves to be exceedingly more difficult for the protagonist.
Malcolm X is quite possibly one of the most controversial public figures from the Civil Rights Movement. His autobiography shows what a complex individual Malcolm X was. We see his transformation from ignorance and despair to knowledge and spiritual awakening. His emphasis on the principal of self-reliance and taking a stand for your rights resonates with every man.
Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
Theodore Rex is a biography of Teddy Roosevelt that covers his eight years as President. From this book we learn what a man can do if they have unwavering determination. During his eight years as President of the United States, Roosevelt created the national parks system, saw the completion of the Panama Canal, and went after unethical trusts and monopolies. TR created the modern presidency. If only we had more leaders like him.
The Count of Monte Cristo by 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.
All Quiet on The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarq
A classic war novel that depicts how war can destroy a man. The book begins with young, idealistic German men, going of to fight in WWI believing their cause is just. After experiencing the horrors of trench warfare and shell shock these young men leave the war disillusioned and numb.
“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
As boys, men often have romantic and idealized visions of war. The reality of war, though, is hard and brutal. In order to survive and thrive in war, a man must transform himself into something bigger. The Red Badge of Courage follows a teenager’s enlistment into the Union Army during the Civil War. He enlists with dreams of glory, but soon those dreams are replaced with doubt and fear. In the end, the young protagonist digs deep and finds the courage and confidence he needs to be a successful soldier.
“They gazed about them with looks of uplifted pride, feeling new trust in the grim, always confident weapons in their hands. And they were men.”
Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch
If you wish to be a great man, you must learn from great men. One of the best ways to do that is through reading the biographies of great men. Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans lets us into the lives of some of histories greatest men. From these writings we learn the importance that a man’s character can have on influencing the world around him. His biography on Alexander the Great is especially inspiring.
The Strenuous Life by Theodore Roosevelt
A Strenuous Life is a collection of speeches and essays by Roosevelt on the importance of building the character of men and women in order for the American Republic to succeed. From it we learn that eschewing the life of ease and luxury are necessary for a country to thrive.
Despite being one of the most religious industrialized nations, America’s religious literacy is horrible. If asked to name one of the Ten Commandments or one of Jesus’ apostles, many Americans wouldn’t be able to do it. The problem is half the books on these lists make Biblical references that must be known by the reader for them to understand the message of that book. 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
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Lonesome Dove is quite possibly the greatest Western novel ever written. The story follows two-long time friends on a cattle drive from the Rio Grande to Montana. Along the way they encounter outlaws, Indians, and old flames. Be warned. This book is a best, but reading it is definitely worth it. After you read the book, make sure to watch the mini-series.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
There’s nothing more manly than a good hard-boiled detective novel. The Maltese Falcon is filled with ambiguities in morality. Sam Spade, the main character in the book is a hardened and cynical man. But underneath his rough exterior is a man with a sense of idealism. Is it possible to do good even if you’re a bad person? It’s a book that will entertain as well as make you think.
“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye is the last book in the Phillip Marlowe detective series. Like any good hard-boiled detective novel, this one is full of gangsters and beautiful femme fatales. In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe befriends a down-on-his law war veteran and helps him back on his feet. Little did Marlowe know that his relationship with this man would wind him up in trouble. This book makes for great weekend and bed time reading.
To Kill a Mockingbird by 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.”
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden
This is a great book if you have a son. It’s filled with activities and skills that all boys should know. Even if you don’t have a son, you’ll spend hours flipping through the pages reminiscing about summer days as a boy. You might also learn a few things, too. Subjects include the histories of famous battles and how to make a bow and arrow.
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point in the Civil War. The Killer Angels recounts this great battle from the the men who played a key role in it. The author attempts to get in the minds of General Lee and Colonel Longstreet and decipher their thoughts and motivations leading up to the fateful battle. After reading this, you’ll understand why many historians say the Civil War was the last romantic war ever fought.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Ben Franklin’s Autobiography is on the list. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is considered by many historians to be America’s first self-help book. In edition to sharing his life’s story, Franklin explains how a man can make himself a success. His story begins with Franklin as boy walking around barefoot and with rolls in his pocket and ends with him being a successful businessman, scientist, and statesman.
“Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which with the blessing of God so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated.”
The Histories by Herodotus
If we don’t learn from the past, we’re doomed to repeat it. The Histories by Herodetus is considered the first work of history in Western literature. The Founding Fathers looked to Herodetus’ histories to learn from the mistakes that the ancient Greeks made with democracy. From the histories we get the best description of the Battle of Marathon. Despite being thousands of years old, many of the problems that ancient Greeks faced, we still face today.
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
This book isn’t about war itself, but rather the it’s about the life of a soldier in Hawaii before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The main character, Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a non-conformist in a profession that demands conformity. His rebelliousness slowly destroys him as the story progresses. The book takes a look at the effect military subculture can have a on a man.
The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner
What makes American’s American? According to Fredrick Jackson Turner, it was the existence of the frontier that shaped America. While Turner’s thesis has been disputed, no one can deny the effect that the wide open frontier had on the American psyche. If you’d like to understand a part of what made the American man, read this essay.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Quite possibly the most widely read book on philosophy. The book is set as a cross-country motorcycle trip by a father and son. The book focuses on the importance of quality in a culture obsessed with quantity.
Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of America’s greatest philosophers. In his essay, Self Reliance, Emerson stressed the importance of individualism and the importance of living by your conscious. A man should not conform or live a life of false consistency.They should march to the beat of their own drummer.
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude after own own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
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