Men as readers are much more varied than publishers give them credit for. It's not all action, adventure, and legal thrillers. In fact, there are many thoughtful, provocative books that have been helping men understand the world and their place in it, and how to change themselves to become who and what they want to be.
Our list of books below will serve all readers well, but especially men. Reading just a few of them can be life-changing; reading all of them could start a personal revolution. The list includes some exciting page-turners, but it also includes slow, thoughtful books that take time to digest.
Use this list as a starting place to catch up on some of the great books that are available today. Each man will have to choose his own path — but the main thing is to get started.
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Here is a classic that you’ve definitely heard of. The writing is impeccable and the characters are unforgettable. You will find lessons on what it means to be a man, how it feels to be too free, what happens when you relive the past, and how all that glitters is not necessarily worth pursuing.
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2. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
This book dates back to the 1500s and its message continues to inspire and horrify people today. This book is all about how to get power and keep it, and it does not shy away from recommending unethical and immoral tactics. Any man driven to seek power would do well to understand how brutal the quest can be. This manual offers a cold, hard look at what it costs to climb to the top.
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3. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
In this historical novel set during the time of the Gold Rush, London manages to create a story that explores wildness and tameness, two conditions that modern men both crave and reject. The unlikely main character is a dog living between the wild and the world of men. The rugged natural backdrop and plot transport you to a place where the battle for gold was rivaled only by the fight to survive the harsh natural forces of the Yukon.
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4. Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones by Carlin Barton
Barton's book offers a fascinating, deeply researched look at the role of honor in the culture and life of ancient Rome. She sees honor as a survival skill for the group and looks at how honor can be lost or given away. Part social commentary, part psychology, and part historical overview, this is a brilliant book for any man interested in reading more about the Roman empire and discovering the meaning and power of honor.
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5. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac is well-known for his masterpiece On the Road, but this book was also influential for many. The story is a quest for truth in life, with many detours through cities and mountains via hitchhiking and jazz clubs. This book has been credited with having a strong influence on the 1960s Hippie counterculture. Dive into this one to see what you find.
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6. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
For this biography, the author did more than 40 interviews with Jobs himself, and then interviewed his family, friends, and business associates. The fierceness of Steve Jobs' personality lights up the book, and his remarkable achievements will make you think you should get up earlier tomorrow morning. This book will open your eyes to the world of an untamed genius.
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7. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Based on a true story about a man who wanted to leave his wealthy family behind and face the elements in nature, this book takes readers out of the city and straight into the wild. With little planning and less money, the main character ends up deep in Alaska. The insights gained along the way make this a book worth reading and have kept it firmly on the shelf with other great American classics.
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8. 1984 by George Orwell
The granddaddy of dystopian novels, 1984 is Orwell's warning to society about the dangers of dictators and unquestioned rulers. In Orwell’s world, being a rebel is the only honorable way out from under society's heavy hand. This is at once a frightening adventure, a thoughtful look at what harm blind faith can do, and continues to unsettle readers with its relevance to modern life.
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9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Though 1984 is more well-known, this book explores a similarly dystopian future where emotionless people serve their rulers without question. The book is an acidic commentary on our willingness to give up our individuality to serve an order we don't understand, and explores themes of love, drugs, and class.
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10. A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
This revolutionary book views history not from the vantage point of the wealthy and powerful, but through the eyes of workers, women, and minorities. Today's ongoing battles over wage equality, minimum wage, work safety, voting rights, and the right to be healthy make this book as relevant today as when it was written.
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11. The Illiad / The Odyssey by Homer
If you haven't read these books since high school, it's time to go back with a mature mind and appreciate the depth and breadth of these stories. This is one of history's ancient classics, and it deals with man's search for his own courage and greatness. The struggles of the male characters are the same struggles men face today.
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12. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This enjoyable read is also a chilling look at man’s primal instincts and what is unleashed when societal norms are removed. While modern men seek to control their emotional responses, there is at the same time a desire to let go. This fast-paced, beautifully written novel is classic man-lit at its best.
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13. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
At its core, this is an epic novel about genius in a dystopic vision of a crumbling America. Rand makes a case for the sanctity of the individual's heroic quest for achievement and greatness. This was the founding book for libertarianism, and the text continues to be controversial today because people love to assign their own meanings to it. Don’t take everyone else's word for it — read it yourself.
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14. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
It is impossible to be a man alive today without confronting betrayal and a search for revenge. This is the quest of an unfairly-imprisoned man who sets out to restore his place in society, win back the love of his life, and conquer his enemies. The book is a timeless epic that looks deep into the soul of man and what drives him.
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15. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
A fresh story seen through the eyes of a young boy in war-torn Afghanistan, this novel is less about politics and more about overarching themes all men can relate to. The story focuses on a betrayal, but also demonstrates the power of redemption and sacrifice.
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16. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Many books explore old territory seeking new insights, but Coates has managed to come up with thoughts no one has ever expressed before. This is a commentary on America, its history, and its crises. Coates finds "race" to be a fictional construct we use to brutalize others. This is a thinking man's book, and it will stick with you a long time.
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17. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
This 16th-century manual on how to wage war may stand forever as the essential word on the subject. As you seek strategies to succeed and avoid harm in today's world, these old words will serve you well. The insights are universal, and the quest for victory is an enduring theme that is not likely to go away soon.
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18. Lives by Plutarch
Ancient Greek biographer Plutarch studied the lives of great men to discover their strengths and weaknesses and to find out what qualities led to their successes and failures. This is a huge collection of biographies, so wade into the deep end and keep reading. You will find yourself somewhere in these pages.
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19. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This classic American novel is over-assigned in high school to kids who are simply not equipped to understand its depth of meaning. Read it as a man instead of as a boy, and you’ll be struck by the simple but engaging plot and inspired by the quiet heroics of Atticus, an Alabama lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape. The perspective on what is right and what is just will ring through the ages.
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