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

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 14, 2008 · 1,241 comments

in Books, Travel & Leisure

Amazon Listmania: The Essential Man’s Library Part IV

American Boys’ Handy Book

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.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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

All Quiet on the Western Front

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.

The Bible

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.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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.”

To see a list of just the titles and authors names for easy printing, click here.

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{ 1218 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

1217 Rona April 19, 2014 at 6:23 pm

I would also add:
The Old Man and The Sea by Hemingway.
The Godfather by Puzo.
Meditations by Aurelius.

1218 Stephen April 20, 2014 at 8:02 pm

A suggestion or two. The list is impressive but if interested in bringing readers into the world of literature many of what are listed are a big jump for the reading ability many (don’t) have today. Perhaps suggesting where a particular work belongs. Secondly…Stranger in a Strange Land is a must read in my opinion for all lastly setting a time constraint before placing a book on the list (a test of time).

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