22 of the Best Books for Men
If you’re looking for the best books for men, you can’t go wrong with the classics. There’s a reason some books have stood the test of time and have become invaluable tools for all of us making our way through life. The best and most essential books for men not only help to expand the mind and feed the soul, but can also provide comfort in times of distress or grief.
What are the must-read books for men?
The best books for men all reveal a fundamental truth about the human condition and are presented in a smart, compelling and entertaining way. Whether it’s imparting a lesson on courage and honesty, celebrating loyalty and friendship, or examining the darker aspects of humanity, books allow us to reach into the depths of other people’s experiences and draw inspiration and even strength.
If you’re not exactly a reader and are looking to fast-track your way into cultural and literary relevance, we recommend you start with the books on this list. It may not be a complete and exhaustive rundown of the most important books throughout history, but it will give you a sense of the breadth and scale of the human experience and help you understand other people—and maybe even yourself—just a little bit better.
Plus, if anything, “Have you read this-and-that by so-and-so author?” is always a great conversation starter in parties, networking events and even on dates.
1. Robinson Crusoe
It’s hard to believe this story of a man marooned on an island and learning to survive for nearly 30 years was first published exactly 300 years ago this year. Daniel Defoe’s classic story has been retold and reinterpreted in many ways since (The Swiss Family Robinson, the Tom Hanks film Castaway, etc.), but the original still holds up as an absorbing tale of man’s relationship with nature and himself.
2. Slaughterhouse 5
What starts out as a memoir about a man's experiences in the German city of Dresden during World War 2 soon turns into a fantasy account of alien abduction and time travel. It’s a headscratcher for some people, until you realize it’s essentially a novel about the horrific effects of war.
3. The Count of Monte Cristo
The ultimate revenge story was first published in 1844 and has since become one of the most famous works of French author Alexandre Dumas. The tale of how one man is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes and exacts vengeance on those who wronged him still resonates with many people regardless of culture or upbringing.
4. Of Mice and Men
This short novel has often landed in many banned books lists for its depiction of race and use of profanity and violence. But there is much to learn about the relationship between main characters George Milton and Lennie Small and its shocking conclusion will make any person think long and hard about the ideas of justice, freedom and innocence.
5. Crime and Punishment
Today we take for granted the idea that committing a crime necessitates an appropriate punishment, but Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky delved deep into the inherent complexities in paying for one’s misdeeds. After Raskolnikov devises and ultimately executes a horrific plan to get himself out of crippling poverty, he must deal with the social and psychological consequences of his actions.
6. The Catcher in the Rye
Few novels in the English language can match the pure honesty and damning wit of JD Salinger’s best-known work. Holden Caulfield is the quintessential teenage rebel—someone who sees himself as the only genuine and honest kid in a sea of “phonies.” If you’ve ever read it as a younger person, go back and re-examine how you feel about it as an adult and see if your perspective about Holden and about the book itself has changed at all.
7. White Fang
The Call of the Wild is equally good, but we’re partial to White Fang, the titular canine character of Jack London’s influential novel. It’s hard enough to tell a story from the point of view of a wolf-dog, but to make it emotionally complex and riveting takes amazing skill. You don’t need to be a dog lover to realize just how masterful this book is.
8. The Great Gatsby
Much has been said about one of the greatest American novels of our time, but at its core, The Great Gatsby rises above many of its contemporaries for its examination of the themes of excess and obsession, of societal pressures and class struggle, and the age-old pursuit of the American dream. Clearly, many people are also drawn to the way Fitzgerald so expertly described that period in American history—the lavishness of their lifestyle and the decadence of the parties during the Roaring Twenties.
9. The Picture of Dorian Gray
First published over 125 years ago, The Picture of Dorian Gray asks the question: What if you could be young and beautiful forever? Dorian Gray finds out when he unwittingly makes a pact that allows him to remain youthful while a painting of him receives the effects of aging and decrepitude. The tragic tale has fascinated generations and is still shockingly relevant today as it was when it first came out.
10. On The Road
It’s many an adolescent’s dream: to go on a road trip and experience life out in the great unknown. The novel crackles with the spirit of adventure and spontaneity—things we leave behind and forget once we’re shackled by the demands of real life. But if you’re ever itching to hit the road but can’t, reading Kerouac’s classic is the next best thing.
11. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hunter S. Thompson
It’s one of the most haunting opening sentences in all of modern literature: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” After that, Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-true story of drug use and debauchery during the 1960s grabs you in a vise-like grip and never lets go. The 1998 film starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro ain’t so bad, too.
12. Moby Dick
Moby Dick the whale means many things to many people, but most agree that Moby Dick the novel is one of modern literature’s best. The novel tells of Captain Ahab’s obsession with finding and exacting revenge on the white whale that chewed off one of his legs. It’s an adventure story at sea, but to read it is to be treated to Melville’s elegant and wonderful prose that has been cited as a major influence by generations of writers since.
13. The Secret History
After a college student studying Ancient Greek gains admission to an ultra-exclusive five-person class, he becomes embroiled in a complex relationship within the group that soon leads to murder. It’s a story of friendship, elitism, beauty and obsession and is a riveting read from start to finish. The Secret History is the debut novel of Tartt, who went on to write the equally lavish The Goldfinch.
There is much to love about Mary Shelley’s classic even after 200 years since it was written, but film director Guillermo Del Toro sums it up best: “It’s the quintessential teenage book,” he said. “You don’t belong. You were brought to this world by people that don’t care for you and you are thrown into a world of suffering, and tears and hunger. It’s an amazing book written by a teenage girl. It’s mind-blowing.”
15. Fahrenheit 451
Imagine a world where books are outlawed. That’s the premise of the Ray Bradbury classic, which first came out in 1953 during a time when there was a genuine fear of censorship and literal book-burning. It’s an essential read if only to remind people the importance of literature and free thought.
Each year, 1984 seems more and more prescient. Orwell may have set his dystopian classic in a specific year, but his ideas of a totalitarian state, the cult of personality and the death of privacy are all timely and distressingly relevant now more than ever.
17. The Last of the Mohicans
James Fenimore Cooper
A true adventure story set in 1700s North America, before the US became a nation, The Last of the Mohicans has it all—battle scenes between white colonizers and Indians in wild, untamed country; damsels in distress; political intrigue, you name it. It’s breathless, non-stop action from start to finish with an ending that packs an emotional wallop.
18. The Outsiders
Yes this is the book upon which that famous movie that launched the careers of the so-called Brat Pack of the 1980s is based, and yes it was written by an 18-year-old girl, which makes many of us wonder when we’re going to hunker down and write that novel in our head. The classic coming-of-age book prefaced the boom in so-called young adult fiction and is still an amazing read.
19. Heart of Darkness
Conrad’s most famous work has received criticism for supposedly painting Africans as wild and uncivilized, but those who glorify say it’s a damning critique of Western colonizers being just as “savage” and “dark” (if not more so) as the tribespeople they encounter in the continent. Either way, it’s an eye-opening novel that offers a chilling perspective on culture and race.
A dizzying, multi-layered work that spans years and even includes jokes, Ilustrado tells the story of the death of Crispin Salvador in New York and his student (also named Miguel Syjuco) who goes back to the Philippines to learn more about his mentor and write his biography. There are many books written by Filipinos that deserve to be on this list, but Syjuco’s Palanca award-winning debut is a must-read.
21. A Little Life
Shorlisted for the Man Booker Prize and a finalist for the National Book Awards, A Little Life is a stunning coming-of-age novel set in modern-day New York. It starts off slow but soon gathers steam and becomes genuinely “unputdownable.” To borrow the title of that Dave Eggers book, “it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.”
22. Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell is without a doubt one of the most talented writers in the English language we have today. He has written a number of books, but standing head and shoulders above them all is this masterpiece that is nearly impossible to describe in one short blurb. Spanning centuries and multiple locations and narrators, the book puts Mitchell’s skill at storytelling on full display. It’s one of those books that will stay with you long after you read the final sentence.