December 22, 2015

Books, Travel & Leisure

The 15 Best Books Read by the AoM Team in 2015

Here at the Art of Manliness, we’re big believers in the brain-boosting, character-expanding, enjoyment-inducing power of books. Kate, Jeremy, and I always have our nose in a book (or pointing at a digital reader), and last year for the first time we decided to put together a list of the best books we read during the course of the year. We’ve decided to do it again this year, and give you a peek into the meaty sources behind a lot of the articles we write and publish, as well as the books we’re simply enjoying in our spare time.

These aren’t necessarily books that came out in 2015, but simply the books we happened to pick up and enjoy this year.

Resilience-Book-Cover

Resilience: Hard-won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric GreitensBy far the best book I read in 2015. It was so good in fact, that I read it twice this year. In Resilience, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens shares a series of letters written between him and a SEAL buddy who was going through a rough time in his life with alcoholism, job loss, and PTSD. Greitens calls upon his background in philosophy to provide insights and advice for his struggling friend on how to develop resilience in the face of adversity. Resilience is something I’ve spent a great deal of time researching and writing on because it’s a trait that I struggle with myself and have to constantly work on. Greitens’ book is by far the best I’ve ever read on the subject. Every page has some nugget of wisdom on how you can become more resilient to big adversities, or just life’s mundane struggles. Along the way you’re treated to personal war stories from Greitens’ SEAL days, as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Aristotle, and Aquinas. —Brett

godfather book novel cover mario puzo

The Godfather by Mario Puzo. While the movie version rightly gets acclaim as one of the best films of all-time, the 1969 novel which inspired it is an excellent piece of writing and literature that most every man would enjoy reading. You know the plot already: for the course of 10 years we follow the Corleones — a very powerful Italian mafia family. We see how their family and power dynamics change over time as young men grow up and old men decline. There is some incredibly virile writing in The Godfather, and you’ll come to think a little differently about right vs. wrong, friendship, loyalty, and the power of familia. —Jeremy

self and soul

Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals by Mark Edmundson. Have you ever had those moments when life just feels flat? Even if on the surface your life seems awesome, something inside you aches and longs for something more meaningful. In Self and Soul, Mark Edmundson diagnoses the spiritual malaise many Westerners feel today. He forcefully argues that we’ve turned our backs on the world of the Soul — the world of ideals like courage, compassion, truth — and have (thanks to Shakespeare and Freud) completely embraced the materialistic and selfish desires of the Self. Self and Soul is an incredibly challenging, convicting, and thought-provoking book. It really forces you to look at your life and ask, “Am I really living for something bigger than myself? If not, how can I change that?” —Brett

with the old breed

With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge. I’ve taught history at the college level, and always been something of a WWII buff, but reading With the Old Breed made me realize that I had previously been ignorant of the horrific reality that was the Pacific War. With rich and haunting prose, Sledge takes you right into the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa and allows you to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the nightmarish scenes on a very visceral level. This is surely one of the best books on war, period, and is a must-read for every American who wants to fully understand the sacrifices their forebearers made for them. -Kate

innovators walter isaacson book cover

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. Everything Walter Isaacson writes is just golden, so when his newest book came out about this time last year, I knew I had to read it. Rather than focusing on a single person, as the prestigious author has in the past, he decided to focus on the biography of the computer. What were its origins, who were the key people paving the way, and most importantly, which factors led to remarkable innovation of the world’s most powerful machine? What you’ll learn is that innovation is almost always a team effort, and that it’s rarely truly unique, but rather incrementally built upon the findings of others. Seeing as how computers run our world, it’s in your interest to know the machine’s origin story. You’ll also learn a lot about business, and what it takes to truly succeed in the marketplace. I can’t recommend this book enough, even if it is a bit technical at times. –Jeremy

devotion

Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos. Last year one of my picks was A Higher Call by Adam Makos. It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between enemies during WWII. Well, Adam has put out another historical book — this time set in the Korean War — and it easily made this year’s list. Devotion is the true tale of two men from completely different worlds: one, the black son of Southern sharecroppers; the other, a white man from a rich New England family. During the course of their service as naval fighter pilots, the two men became good friends. That friendship is put to the test when one of them is shot down on a remote North Korean mountain during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Devotion asks: How far would you go to save a friend? It is a book that will make you laugh, cry, and sit on the edge of your chair. When you’re done, you’ll feel completely edified and inspired to be a better man. —Brett

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594205639/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1594205639&linkCode=as2&tag=stucosuccess-20&linkId=OKSWMQALSPQPJKZE

The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall. Jonathan Gottschall was an associate professor of English whose career had stalled in mid-life. Then one day he looked out his office window, saw an MMA gym across the street, and decided he was going to train to become a fighter. He wanted both to prove something to himself and to gain firsthand experiences to draw from in writing a book about the biology, anthropology, and sociology of male violence. The result was The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch. If you enjoyed our honor and manhood series, then you’ll certainly get a lot out of this book. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read about masculinity. –Brett

zealot

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. I got my masters in religion, so I’ve got a preexisting interest in the subject, but I think this is a book that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their faith. Aslan makes a good deal of the current scholarship on the historical Jesus accessible and quite compelling, digging into what might reasonably be concluded about his life and times apart from any theological bent. Aslan argues that Jesus was more of a political rebel than a spiritual teacher, and was killed for threatening the Roman establishment. Even if you end up disagreeing with Aslan’s conclusions, the book raises interesting questions, offers fascinating insights into the time and place in which Jesus lived, and creates an engaging angle on a figure that’s been studied and scrutinized for 2,000 years. —Kate

AlasBabylon(1stEd)

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. I’m a sucker for apocalyptic novels. Many of them that you read and hear about, however, are fairly modern. Stephen King’s The Stand is one of the older ones you’ll find, and that was published in 1978. Pat Frank, though, was writing about the apocalypse all the way back in the 1950s. His vision in Alas, Babylon was of nuclear destruction in America at the hands of the Russians. Our protagonist, Randy Bragg, lives in the small Florida town of Fort Repose, and takes position as a leader in the community. Like any good book in this genre, we learn about leadership, survival, and doing whatever the heck it takes to survive. Although the book was written nearly 60 years ago, its sentiments ring remarkably true in the present day. –Jeremy 

conversation

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. In Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle makes a compelling case that while digital tools like email and text messaging has made communication more efficient, we miss out on certain benefits that come with sustained face-to-face conversation. After reading it, I’ve re-doubled my effort to spend less time with my nose buried in my cell phone and more time engaging in open-ended, face-to-face conversations. And I’ve noticed a net positive in my life by doing so. If you’re ready to take a hard look at the role of tech in your communication and how it’s robbing you of one of life’s greatest pleasures, then read this book. It’s a powerful jeremiad (in the most positive sense), and it’ll leave you inspired to have more face-to-face conversations with friends and family. For further insights, also check out The Village Effect by Susan Pinker. —Brett

frenzy

The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History by Leo BraudyThis book provided myriad historical and cultural insights to the epic status series we just finished up. In The Frenzy of Renown, cultural historian Leo Braudy takes readers on an ambitious tour of the history of fame throughout the West, starting with the Ancient Greeks and ending with 20th century American celebrities. Despite being a hefty 720 pages, I never got bored with this book. Each page is jam-packed with historical and philosophical insight about our changing relationship to fame and status throughout history. If you enjoyed the status series, particularly the historical aspect of it, definitely give this a book a read. —Brett

breath becomes air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Although this memoir has yet to be released (coming to the general public on January 12, 2016), I had the opportunity to read an early review copy. And boy am I glad I did. Of all the books I read in 2015, this was probably the most impactful, and the most beautifully written. Kalanithi was a brilliant young mind who enjoyed studying both literature and science. He had to choose a discipline to stick with, and he ended up going with medicine, specifically neuroscience. While a doctor, he finds out he has cancer himself and receives a very poor prognosis. So he embarks on his own journey of discovering the meaning and reality of death from the perspective of both patient and doctor. What follows is a remarkable examination of what’s important in life, and what builds your legacy as both a working man and a family man (he has a daughter during the course of the memoir, and while being treated). Sadly, his cancer could not be eradicated, and Kalanithi died well before his book could ever hit the shelves. As my wife and I welcomed a little boy into the world this year, it was an especially meaningful read. –-Jeremy

henry

Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind by Robert D. Richardson. Folks love to pull out quotes of Thoreau’s philosophy to use (and misuse) in support of their own position, and to add a touch of nonconformist cool to their writings. But what did Thoreau really think? Richardson takes you on a thoroughly compelling year-by-year tour of how Thoreau’s philosophy evolved and what influenced it — from nature, to his mentor Emerson, to the huge number of books he read throughout his life. While Thoreau was certainly a flawed and at times insufferable character, his mind truly produced an array of thought-provoking insights on how to live life more fully. What makes this book so terrific, however, is the fact that Richardson’s own insights quite frequently rise to the level of his subject’s. The only frustrating thing about this read? It’s one of those books where you’ll find yourself highlighting entire pages at a time. –Kate

100-deadly-skills-9781476796055_hr

100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation by Clint Emerson (illustrated by AoM’s own Ted Slampyak). This book wasn’t particularly deep or thought provoking, but it was certainly a lot of fun to read! 100 Deadly Skills has everything you need to know in order to feel like a real life Jason Bourne. In the book, former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson shows civilians how to escape illegal restraints, kill a man with nothing but a pen, and communicate surreptitiously. Will you ever have to use any of these skills? Probably not. But it feels awesome to know that you can if you had to. –Brett

cs lewis

C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath. A lot of people have read Lewis’ Narnia books and his Christian apologetics, but what of the life that influenced these works? McGrath’s quite readable biography of Lewis never quite explains and gets at the heart of his subject’s complex and somewhat eccentric personality, but he does do a thoroughly engaging job of illuminating the development of Lewis’ theological thinking and literary style, and offering a fascinating analysis of many of his works. By the end of the book, you’ll be wanting to get your hands on everything Lewis wrote to start reading the man for yourself. –Kate

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