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• Last updated: September 10, 2020

The 16 Best Books Read by the AoM Team in 2014

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). Whether we’re reading something specifically for research for an article, or just for pleasure, most of what we read ends up in a post somehow. Below you’ll find a list of the best books we collectively read this year. These aren’t necessarily books that came out in 2014, but simply the books we happened to pick up and enjoy this year; the oldest actually dates back to 1940!

If you’d like to keep up with what the AoM team is reading throughout the year, be sure to sign up for our new book recommendation newsletter — details below!

Manhood in the making book cover David Gilmore.

Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity by David Gilmore. I’ve read a lot of books about masculinity, but none have come close to providing me with as many insights about manhood as this book has. Kate found it fascinating as well, and thought it provided invaluable insights into understanding the world of men. Manhood in the Making is a cross-cultural analysis of how masculinity is perceived, and lived, throughout the world. What Gilmore discovered is that the concern for being manly, far from being a peculiarly modern phenomena, an American obsession beget of a frontier past, or a cultural quirk that developed in a few pockets of the world, has instead been shared by nearly every culture in the world, both past and present. Societies as far-flung as Japan and Mexico, New Guinea and India, Kenya and Spain, had and continue to have a cultural conception of a “real man” — an ideal to which all males are expected to aspire. Manhood in the Making helped me think through the meaning of manhood on a new level and served as the basis for our epic series on manhood earlier this year. We heartily recommend that you pick up a copy of this book. –Brett and Kate

The circle Book cover Dave Eggers.

The Circle by Dave Eggers. Set in the near future, this cautionary tale is just what this social media-soaked society needs. Our protagonist, Mae, works at The Circle, a company akin to Facebook. At the beginning, it’s a great online community-building company. It’s innocent enough, and acts just like your current social profiles do — sharing information with friends and family (and strangers) and exploring connections previously unknown. As the book continues, however, The Circle morphs and begins to take over every aspect of one’s life, in a very Big Brother way. Reality is completely replaced by the digital realm. This is the 1984 of our generation, and should be on everyone’s reading list. It’s also part thriller, so it reads quick. –Jeremy


Science strategy and war Book cover Ooda loop Frans Osinga.

Science, Strategy, and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Frans P.B. Osinga. The OODA Loop is a much written about, but little understood topic. If you’ve heard of it, it was most likely presented in a fairly superficial way – as a 4-step decision-making process where the individual or group who makes it through all the stages the quickest, wins. That’s one element of the OODA Loop, but there’s much more to it than that. When I was researching my post on John Boyd’s OODA Loop, this book was the by far the best resource on the topic. Osinga meticulously highlights and explores the diverse sources Boyd drew from in developing the OODA Loop. By understanding the scientific theories and philosophy that Boyd used as inspiration, you start to see that the OODA Loop is much richer, deeper, and complex than a simple decision cycle: It’s a learning system, a method for dealing with uncertainty, and a strategy for winning head-to-head contests and competitions. After reading this book, I started seeing the OODA Loop everywhere. It’s changed how I’ve thought about war, my business, and even my personal development. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about and try to apply a concept that I read in this book. –Brett
Devil at my heels book cover louis Zamperini.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand + Devil at My Heels by Louis Zamperini. It’s almost too cliché to suggest Unbroken, since it’s been such a runaway bestseller. But for the last handful of you who haven’t read the book yet, I highly recommend it! Unbroken tells the almost unbelievable tale of Louis Zamperini, a bombardier who crash landed in the ocean during WWII, survived for 47 days on the open sea, and then endured two years of brutal treatment in a series of Japanese POW camps. I also read Devil at My Heels, Louie’s autobiography, in conjunction with Unbroken, and I couldn’t decide which I liked better. The latter gives you a lot of detail, and a gripping narrative, while the former offers you the chance to hear Louie’s own “voice.” They’re really both worth a read. I can’t wait to see the movie version, but hope I’m not disappointed in the screen translation of Louie’s inspiring story. -Kate

Dragnet nation Book cover Julia Angwin.

Dragnet Nation by Julia Angwin. Last spring I wrote about how to protect yourself online, using Angwin’s book as a foundation. Surprisingly to me, it wasn’t a terribly popular article, seeming to only gain traction among folks for whom online security was already an important issue. Before I read Angwin’s work, internet security honestly wasn’t that important to me either. In the first part of the book, however, she lays out the un-constitutionality of the NSA’s spying tactics, as well as the continued prevalence of hackers. Particularly interesting was her discussion of ad companies sweeping the internet (called dragnets) for information about consumers, then using that information for pricing, credit approval, etc. Hackers, and internet security as a whole, are only in the news more and more (see Sony). Angwin’s book was eye-opening about both the importance of protecting oneself online, and about how to actually do so. If your privacy and very well-being is important to you, you’ll give this book a read and learn how to better protect yourself from the prying eyes of both hackers and our own government. -Jeremy

Demonic males Book cover Richard Wrangham.

Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence by Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham. This was another valuable resource in our series about the 3 P’s of Manhood, particularly on the topic of why men across cultures are called to be the “protectors.” Harvard biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham, along with his co-author Dale Peterson, explore what primatologists have discovered about violence amongst male great apes and what it can teach us about male human violence. But beyond male violence, Demonic Males provides insights into the possible evolutionary reasons why male humans form gangs and why human patriarchy exists. If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of masculinity, this is a must-read book. You can listen to my podcast with Dr. Wrangham here. –Brett 
So good they can't ignore you Book cover Cal Newport.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. We’ve all heard the career advice to “follow your passion.” It’s repeated so much that it’s taken as an article of faith. But college professor Cal Newport makes the provocative case that “following your passion” is actually terrible advice and can cause people needless anxiety and problems in their lives. Instead of “following your passion,” Cal argues that seeking mastery in your job is the starting step to cultivating work you love. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a must-read for college students and young men just starting their careers. You can listen to my podcast with Cal Newport here. -Brett

After Virtue Book cover Alasdair Macintyre.

After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre, a Scottish philosopher, argues that the language of virtue and a true understanding of morality has been lost to us in the modern age; while we think we know what morality is, we’re simply riffing on the fragmentary pieces that remain. The result is an irrational, unintelligible mess, where arguments over moral issues are shrill and impossible to resolve. What is needed is a unity of virtues and a why — a shared end goal of human life — such as is provided in Aristotelian philosophy. The book is heavy and deep — I had to concentrate hard on each page, and even then found some of it nearly inscrutable. So too, MacIntyre sometimes heads down hard-to-follow detours from his main argument. But then you hit a passage of pure, overwhelmingly brilliant insight, and that makes the effort worth it. Would love to turn some of those insights into posts in the future — I just need to read the book again so I can really understand it! –Kate

A deadly wandering matt Richtel Book cover.

A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel. The setting is Utah. More specifically, a town and a mountain pass in which a teenage driver caused the deaths of two rocket scientists by wandering over the center lane. The cause of that wandering? Texting. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matt Richtel takes us on a journey that explores how technology affects our attention, with the narrative of the aforementioned car accident helping tell the tale. He talks with neuroscientists, psychologists, and Reggie Shaw himself, the young teen who was driving on that fated day in the mountains. Richtel implores us to come to grips with the dangerous reality of distraction; for instance, those dings on our cell phone give us a dopamine rush, giving it a neurological pull, almost like porn. This means that while 90% of people believe texting and driving is extremely dangerous, 60% of us do it anyway. Richtel’s work is an important culture piece which helps us ask and answer the question, “What is our technology doing to us?” -Jeremy 

Jack London an American life Book cover Earle labor.

Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor. I’ve long been a fan of Jack London’s work. No other writer captures the masculine spirit of romance and adventure like he does. After reading Jack London: An American Life, my fandom grew to love and admiration. Jack London scholar Earle Labor worked on this masterful biography for over forty years before it was finally published in 2013. Labor gives us an intimate look at a complex, flawed, and often contradictory figure. Reading about the life of Jack London has inspired me to work a bit harder and live life a little deeper. His life story inspires thumos and fills me with fire and fight; but it’s also a warning of what happens when a man has too much thumos in his life. If you’ve read Call of the Wild or White Fang, it’s time you read about the life of the man who created those stories. You can listen to my podcast with Earle Labor here. -Brett

Roman honor Fire in the bones Book cover Carlin Barton.

Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones by Carlin Barton. Back in 2012, we published a series on the history and decline of traditional honor in the West. I thought I had turned over every rock when researching those posts, but a few months after we wrapped up the series, I came across Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones by Carlin Barton, a professor of ancient history at the University of Massachusetts. I wish I had known about this book when I was researching and writing my series on honor. Roman Honor is the best book I’ve read on honor — bar none. Barton masterfully explores how honor shaped the lives of ancient Rome from the early days of the Republic and all the way through the fall of the empire. She shows how small, intimate groups are vital for honor to survive and how imperialism kills it. This book is a hard read, but it’s well worth the effort. The insights are so brilliant that it’s almost startling, and even the footnotes are packed with fascinating asides. You can listen to my podcast with Carlin Barton here. -Brett

Boys in the Boat Book cover Daniel James Brown.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. This was perhaps the best book I read in 2014. Brown tells the unbelievable and true story of the United States rowing squad of the 1936 Olympics in Hitler-led Berlin, Germany. That squad was the University of Washington 8-man crew; they were a group of working-class college boys who defined grit and determination. Brown centers on star rower Joe Rantz, an orphan who is working himself through college and struggling to find his place in the world. On the water, however, all his struggles disappear, and he can focus on the rhythm of each stroke of the oar. Brown’s beautiful prose will keep you engrossed in the story, and you’ll come to love the sport of rowing. You’ll also be inspired beyond measure by the 8 men who gave every ounce of their being for their team and their country. -Jeremy

Faith for living Book cover Lewis Mumford.

Faith for Living by Lewis Mumford. Published in 1940, with Europe already enmeshed in war and the world on the brink of joining in, Faith for Living is an exhortation to find a philosophy of life worth living, and dying, for. Mumford looks warily at the “barbarians” growing in power across the Atlantic, and argues that unless the peoples of free democratic societies wake up from their “comfortable bourgeoisie routine” and revive a “faith for living” — an intrinsic counterargument to the enticements of fascism — the values of classical liberalism will be conquered and vanquished. Some of Mumford’s proposals on how to rejuvenate this faith feel outdated, some of the sections are merely skimmable, and I ultimately didn’t agree with all he had to say. But there were enough truly incisive, even prophetic, insights that I really enjoyed this book. Part of its appeal is simply due to my love of history — it was fascinating to read a perspective birthed at the cusp of America’s entry into WWII. But its real fascination for me has to do with my strong belief in the theory of the generational cycle; Mumford’s book was published around the time in the last cycle that parallels where we are in the current cycle. It was thus interesting to find parts that cast light on certain aspects of culture and current events in the modern day. –Kate

Average is over Book cover Tyler Cowen.

Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen. Never have I read a book so depressing and inspiring at the same time. In Average is Over, economist Tyler Cowen makes the case that the economy and way of life that America has been accustomed to is over. Middle-class comforts that our grandparents and parents enjoyed since World War II are no longer guaranteed. While your grandpa could have a comfortable life just by graduating high school and working a factory job, that’s no longer the case. According to Cowen, average is over. Ever since reading this book I’ve seen this concept of “Average is Over” in other areas besides economics, such as marriage and childrearing as well. But Cowen’s book isn’t all doom and gloom. He provides actionable steps individuals can take to survive and thrive in our changing economy. You might not agree with everything in this book, but it will definitely get you thinking about what you can do to stand out and thrive in the modern world. Check out my podcast with Tyler about his book The Complacent Class.Brett

John Wayne life and legend book cover Scott Eyman.

John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman. Like most American men, I’ve seen my share of John Wayne movies. But I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about this larger-than-life movie star. In fact, it seems like it’s cool to be down on Wayne (and the kind of masculinity he represented) these days. That’s why I was excited when a new biography on him came out this year from Scott Eyman. In John Wayne: The Life and Legend, we see how a good-looking, affable, smart kid named Marion Morrison from Iowa, turned himself into John Wayne, living symbol of American manhood. After reading this book, I actually grew a newfound respect and affinity for Wayne. Despite being one of the biggest movie stars in the world, he lacked any pretentiousness and self-importance. Everyone in the film industry — even the ones who ardently disagreed with Wayne’s conservative politics — respected his work ethic and professionalism. The big takeaway I got from this biography is that becoming the man you want to be often means acting like you are that man already. As Wayne put it: “I’ve played the kind of man I’d like to have been.” -Brett

    Last Lion trilogy William Manchester.

The Last Lion Trilogy by William Manchester. Quite possibly the best biography we’ve ever read. Epic in scale – about 3,000 pages split over 3 volumes – Manchester takes you on an enjoyable and edifying ride through Winston Churchill’s legendary life. Sometimes the amount of background detail Manchester delves into bogs the narrative down a little – pages go by without Churchill making an appearance – but ultimately the in-depth treatment serves to absolutely transport you back in time. It’s hard to call any biography a page-turner, since you know what happens, but The Last Lion comes awfully close – you’ll find yourself eager to jump back into the book and re-enter Churchill’s world. The best part of the trilogy, however, is not all the fascinating biographical details about Churchill’s life, but how Manchester simultaneously illuminates the statesman’s inspiring character along the way. Tragically, Manchester died before being able to finish the last volume, and another author stepped in to complete it. The third volume thus falls slightly short of the first two, but all are eminently worth reading. –Brett & Kate

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