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100+ Essential Books Every Man Should Read

Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, philosophy and biography — this list will keep you reading for years to come.

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Having a well-rounded library isn’t about collecting literature or being informed. It’s about expanding your knowledge, chasing your curiosity and, sometimes, just escaping into the pages of an enjoyable read.

A personal library shouldn’t be built in a day, but rather, it should be acquired over many years, reflecting changing interests and tastes, growing with you. Across a range of genres — fiction, nonfiction, short fiction, poetry and theater, essays and philosophy — we put together a list of over 200 must-read books, comprised of classics, recent standouts and a few esoteric gems. So explore the diverse range of authors below, build out a library and take pride in finding your own mix of books to treasure.



For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway reported on the ground during the bloody Spanish Civil War; that, plus his dense, tight prose make for one of the best novels about a young man at war, and in love, ever. $13


Casino Royale

by Ian Fleming – The genesis of Bond, 1953’s Casino Royale casts the world’s most famous spy in a darker, more nuanced light than the films that would follow. For further reading, head straight to From Russia With Love before circling back to take in the whole series. $9


The Killing Joke

by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland – Controversial, dark and dense, this won’t take you an hour to read, but it will stick with you like a scar. As the Joker attempts to prove that the line between sane and insane is just “one bad day,” we see the clear similarities between the Caped Crusader and his greatest foe. The book, which has been accepted as the Joker’s true origin story, is being made into an animated feature. $10


To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper LeeGo Set a Watchman made news for Lee in all the wrong ways. But the reason readers were so up in arms about the book was because To Kill a Mockingbird’s setting, themes and characters are iconic. Yes, it’s a middle-school assignment. But read as an adult, it’s even more rewarding. $11


Cat’s Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut – Vonnegut’s fourth novel, Cat’s Cradle deals with how people relate to technology (especially weapons of war), and the public’s ideas of free will in a modern society.



by Roberto Bolaño – Released one year after the author’s death, this epic 900-page novel, in typical Bolaño style, has multiple storylines and explores societal decay in the 20th century. $15


My Struggle

by Karl Ove Knausgård – A six-book autobiographical series centering around family and relationships, My Struggle explores the conflict of the a man’s simplest needs versus his desire to create lasting works. $10+ per book


Under the Volcano

by Malcolm Lowry – Full of references to other works of literature, this book is set in Quauhnahuac, Mexico in 1938, and explores the basic struggles of one man (an alcoholic former British Consul) on the Day of the Dead. $12


Infinite Jest

by David Foster Wallace – Wallace sets his finger directly on the pulse of the modern condition, and the results are equal parts harrowing and redeeming. This is an intense and beautiful look at the world we live in, from one of our most honest and big-hearted voices. $12


One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Few novels have reinvigorated readers’ imaginations as much as this book. Marquez will remind you why you read: to be delighted and to believe in a world more wonderful than what we see. $10


The Stranger

by Albert Camus – Camus, the French absurdist and existentialist (though he shunned the latter term), creates a vibrant and haunted life in the midst of Algerian sunshine and sand. Don’t expect satisfaction, but enjoy the wanderings and inexplicable actions of Meursault — a man who lives only in the moment, and suffers because of it. $8


War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy – A vast tome that anyone interested in Russian writers should view as a must — and also simply one of the most influential novels in the history of modern literature. The book is incredible in its transcendence of genres: Tolstoy said that it was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle”. $12


The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas – Perhaps the best revenge novel ever written. If you’re gonna do it, do it in style. Fantastic storytelling and adventure that makes you want to be Edmond Dantès, at least in the latter half of the book. $24


Blood Meridian

by Cormac McCarthy – McCarthy’s masterpiece, a dark western that causes a thoughtful man to consider Manifest Destiny’s implications. $9


Johnny Got His Gun

by Dalton Trumbo – You don’t have to be for or against war to be hit hard by this book. A horribly wounded soldier lays in a hospital room, unable to speak or see. What takes place after will make you think… hard. $13


White Noise

by Don DeLillo – A professor of Hitler Studies. An airborne toxic event. Drug addition. A weird and funny meditation on media saturation and consumerism by an author who’s been called the “chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction”. $11


The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway’s first and finest novel. It’s a roman a clef about post-WWI expats in Paris, bullfighting in Spain and women — with a cameo by the hefty Count Mippipopolous, a Greek who really likes his Champagne. $10


When All the World Was Young

by Ferrol Sams – Sams’ final novel in the Peter Osborne Jr. trilogy of Americana is arguably his best. Set in 1942, the book follows Osborne as he disembarks the safety net of medical school in rural Georgia to enlist in the military — heeding the call of Uncle Sam and his own soul and contemplating the outcome of the World War. It’s like an epic story of wisdom and wit handed down by your grandfather over a campfire. $13



by Frank Herbert – Major accolades like being the best selling science fiction novel of all time, a Hugo Award winner and the inaugural Nebula award winner for best novel speak to the impact of Dune in hindsight. But it wasn’t an easy sell initially. A little over a decade before Star Wars, Herbert created an immersive fictional world that was still encumbered by serious real-world struggles surrounding limited resources, classicism and oppression. Nearly 50 years later, its core themes seem more relevant than ever in world occupied by global terrorism and the squabble over fossil fuels. $11


The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Dostoevsky’s last; a philosophical exploration of ethics, God, and free will. $13


The Call of The Wild

by Jack London – It’s a story that will pull at the heartstrings of any dog lover. London captures Buck’s life beautifully, taking him from California to the brutal Alaskan wilderness. Survival, nature, a man’s best friend and a dog’s devotion. What else is there? $9



by Karl Marlantes – A novel about the horrors, humanity and depravity of the Vietnam War. Written by a soldier with a rawness and reality that’s inescapable. Not a feelgood book, by any means; it makes you want to salute anyone who’s gone through it. $10


Solo Faces

by James Salter – Perhaps the best novel ever written about big wall climbing, it also is a quietly meditative study of a man’s obsession. $12


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain – A damning indictment of the Antebellum South; as if that weren’t enough, Twain sets the humorous and moral foundations for all of American literature. Read it. $4


The Return of the Native

by Thomas Hardy – The classic novel that takes place on the austere Egdon Heath. Love triangles, bad decisions, chance and destiny — plus some of the best narrative you’ll ever read. $9


Less Than Zero

by Bret Easton Ellis – A raw, vicious and thoroughly damning take on the themes of confusion, angst and alienation breached by adolescent curriculum staples such as The Catcher In The Rye. Like his more popular work American Psycho, Ellis’s twisted mind is not for the faint of heart — but like a wake up call at some obscene hour, it’s worth the discomfort if sleeping through life is your problem. $9


The Foundation Trilogy

by Isaac Asimov – George Santayana said “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. But Asimov asks, if “Big Data” could provide an accurate picture of what’s to come, should we surrender our will and blindly follow the equation? $23


Franny and Zooey

by J.D. Salinger – No family or individual is perfect, and the youngest members of Salinger’s Glass Family are no exception. $14


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

by J.R.R Tolkien – Don’t let Peter Jackson’s films lull you into skipping the books. They define a genre like Guy Fieri defines douchebags. Plus, you’ll finally get those jokes murmured by your IT staff. $21


Snow Crash

by Neil Stephenson – Buzzfeed and 4chan seem like the pinnacle of digital schizophrenia, but Stephenson thinks we’re just getting started. Even if those the dreams of VR and Power Gloves promised by the 80s were a few decades too early. $10


Ender’s Game

by Orson Scott Card – The fate of the world rests in the hands of genius children. Some are trained since kindergarten in all things war, while others manipulate public sentiment and politics through the anonymity of the web. No wonder Mark Zuckerberg lists it as one of his two favorite books on his Facebook profile. $6


The Once and Future King

by T.H. White – We all know the tale of King Arthur, but no riff on the story captures the murky nature of justice and power quite like T.H. White’s fantasy — written under the shadow of World War II. $17


The Bonfire of the Vanities

by Tom Wolfe – Modern fiction can’t resist the hypocrisy of New York City in the 1980’s, but Wolfe’s first and most famous novel will always get the credit for telling it best. $13


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

by Hunter S. Thompson – The American dream, diagnosed and exposed — explored amid the raucous adventures of a man who needed some diagnosing himself. $10


A Time to Kill

by John GrishamThe Firm and Pelican Brief were the popular culture breadwinners, but in the end A Time to Kill was the searing story of triumph over racism that sealed Grisham as one of the consistently best writers of modern popular fiction. $7


High Fidelity

by Nick Hornby – Two love stories: man and woman, and man and music through the setting of a record shop and narrative infused with Hornby’s undeniably hilarious British humor. $10


Watership Down

by Richard Adams – Few books have put together a saga of courage quite like Watership Down. Heroism, adventure, and exile. It’s all there. $12


The Rider

by Tim Krabbe – The best cycling novel ever written, and one we need now more than ever to recapture what’s been lost in this classic sport. $11



by John Dos Passos – Dos Passos, a friend and contemporary of Hemingway, wrote this sweeping and experimental three-part novel about early 20th century America. $29


The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler – The quintessential hardboiled detective novel. $33



by James Dickey – A guy trip, gone WAY wrong. $10


Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison – Surrealist account of being black in America — classic anti-hero palimpsest of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. $10


All the King’s Men

by Robert Penn Warren – A look at the consequences of cause and effect and the journey from idealist to corrupt “realist”. Insight for considering our current political process and those involved. $12


The Right Stuff

by Tom Wolfe – A classic of the New Journalism style and the finest tale of heroism and manly derring-do ever told. $10



by Vladimir Nabokov – A haunting, challenging masterpiece that puts the reader inside the mind of one of the most controversial protagonists in literary history. $10



What to Eat

by Marion Nestle – NYU’s Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health lays out the facts that every tryhard conscious eater has ever puzzled over, along with practical, actionable steps for whatever your food-buying priorities may be — personal health, environmental karma, eating local and more. $12


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

by John Berendt – A past editor at The New Yorker and columnist for Esquire, Berendt’s voice reads like that of a clever close friend. The story he uncovered, about an alleged murder by a Savannah socialite, falls very much under the category of stranger than fiction. $10


How Music Works

by David Byrne – It will change the way you listen — and the way you think about world music, pop music, music education and music’s place in various cultures and societies. Plus, Byrne throws fans a bone and goes autobiographical. $16


So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

by Jon Ronson – Ronson spent three years tracking down those unfortunate souls that woke up one day and found themselves the recipients of high-profile public shamings. Some deserved it, some didn’t, but they all have lessons to share on how the Internet impacts our perception of justice. $18


Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

by William Finnegan – Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography, this is the story of the formation of William Finnegan, who led a life on the waves before becoming one of the world’s foremost political reporters and staff writer for The New Yorker. Beautifully written, it’ll make you miss the waves, even if you’ve never ridden one. $17


Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

by Ashlee Vance – Musk is bigger than Zuckerberg. And if he gets his way, he’ll surpass Jobs and Gates in our recollection of society. That is, if he manages to get us to Mars. A fanatic, asshole and undeniable genius, Musk is an inspiration for all, and a barometer for our future. $18


Going Solo

by Roald Dahl – Because Mr. Dahl lived life passionately and with an insatiable thirst for adventure. $7


Touching the Void

by Joe SimpsonMountaineering‘s greatest survival story, period. $10


Into Thin Air

by Jon Krakauer – Mountaineering‘s greatest disaster story. $10


The Wealth of Nations

by Adam Smith – One of the bibles of economics, based on the Industrial Revolution. Extols the virtues of a free-market economy; makes you wonder what the heck we’re doing so wrong now. $15


Kill or Get Killed

by Col. Rex Applegate – The classic self-defense and mob control manual for military and law enforcement. You think you’re tough? Think again. $35


Young Men and Fire

by Norman MacLean – The bravery of an unsung profession; this is a tale of natural disaster, adventure and male camaraderie. $10


Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

by Peter Paret – A popular history textbook that makes for some seriously addictive reading. Military history, politics and social impact over the span of five centuries. $41


The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

by Edward Gibbons – He’s credited as being the first modern historian of ancient Rome. The book traces the history of the Roman Empire (and Western civilization as a whole) from the late first century A.D to the fall of the Byzantine Empire. $12


A Brief History of Time

by Stephen Hawking – Hawking’s goals are as modest as can be — explain the history of the universe all the way back to the beginning of time, without assuming readers are universally stupid. $11


Band of Brothers

by Stephen Ambrose – Inspiration from the very mortal men of the 101st Airborne division, who fought bravely during D-Day, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. $10



by Sebastian Junger – Nothing is more riveting or quite as unbelievable as war. Junger captures the reality of war in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley with his empathetic and soaring writing. $6


The Endurance

by Caroline Alexander – The quintessential survival story that is about so much more: bravery, leadership, and never giving up. $5


Into the Wild

by Jon Krakauer – The perils of the “living off the land” fantasy so many of us have. $3


The Snow Leopard

by Peter Mathiessen – A gorgeously told tale of the search for an elusive Himalayan creature, and for inner peace. $12


The Perfect Storm

by Sebastian Junger – The book that launched a thousand Discovery Channel shows is still a classic of man vs. nature. $12


Surviving the Extremes

by Dr. Kenneth Kamler – For anyone who ventures in the wild, Dr. Kamler tells in great detail the effects of weather and environment on the body, from the initial symptoms to those that immediately precede death. It’s both a rubber-necking read into adventure gone bad and a “how-to” on avoiding becoming the basis of an Outside magazine post-mortem. $14


The Education of Henry Adams

by Henry Adams – Autobiography of Henry Adams, scion of the American royal family of John and John Quincy. Written in the third person, Adams reminds us of the value of experience and self-education over formal schooling. He also points out the importance of balancing a classic education with an understanding of STEM. $17


Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond – The reasons behind the rise and fall of civilizations. $11


The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

by John Maynard Keynes – The granddaddy of economic thought that is so much the rage amongst liberals. $11



by Michael Herr – Personal, intense account of the Vietnam war. $17


The Second World War

by Winston Churchill – The definitive history of WWII written by one of the men who most shaped its outcome. $80

Short Fiction


Night Shift

by Stephen King – There’s something about the short horror story — we don’t tell novel-length ghost stories around the campfire, right? It just so happens that our era’s most talented horror writer is also its most prolific. That’s the recipe for great short story collections. This is King’s most bone-chilling. $8



by Junot DíazOscar Wao won him the Pulitzer, but Diaz’s first short story collection is just as deserving, treating raw personal subjects — race, masculinity, the transience of immigration — with the refinement of time and craft. $10


The Girl in the Flammable Skirt

by Aimee Bender – Bender turns gruesome specifics into dreamlike details and spins symbolism out of pornographic scenarios. (One story about a librarian is particularly chilling.) $10


Chekhov — Short Stories

by Anton Chekhov – Anton Chekhov is the father of the modern short story and a canonical part of any respectable library. His stories are vibrant and often playful, despite the undercurrent of Russian futility. $11


Tenth of December

by George Saunders – Saunders continues his reign of human victory and (more often) despair set in tragic, absurd dystopias. He captures the illogical fear and indiscriminate danger that the modern world presents to its everyday citizens, who are wracked by doldrums but hanging stoically onto their odd little American dreams, just like the rest of us. Saunders proves that by nearly drowning the reader with his characters’ perils, he can make little successes all the more moving. $10


Short Stories by O. Henry

by O. Henry – Nuggets of sly, intriguing and inspiring human interaction. Read “The Last Leaf” and try not to ponder heroic sacrifice; “The Green Door” primes for adventure like no other. $9


The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury – They’re all good, but read “There Will Come Soft Rains”, a tale of a doomed future where technology has failed to save mankind. What would you leave behind if it all ended? $6


The Open Boat

by Stephen Crane – Death, cruel nature and the fraternal brotherhood of men. $3


Tales of Ordinary Madness

by Charles Bukowski – Bukowski’s a cult hero, poet and dirtbag. One story in this collection has his alter ego, Chinaski, get tossed into a cactus while trying to grab a Zen monk’s ears. $12



by James Joyce – The master; but more approachable than Ulysses. Read “The Dead” if nothing else. $4



Howl and other Poems

by Allen Ginsberg – One of the essential works of Beat Poetry, Ginsberg creates a 20th-century “Song of Myself.” The other poems are substantial works in and of themselves, including “America” and “Sunflower Sutra,” among others. $5


Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

by Anne Sexton – Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967, Sexton wrote raw, confessional poetry about things like abortion, adultery and drug addiction long before these topics were commonplace in poetry. $15


Four Quartets

by T.S. Eliot – Though The Waste Land and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock cement Eliot as one of the greats, it’s the accessibility of Four Quartets that makes him relatable, as he waxes about man’s relationship with time and higher powers.


Hamilton: The Revolution

by Lin-Manuel Miranda – The full libretto from the instant classic, complete with production photos and footnotes from Miranda — noting every Tupac reference, every fun piece of historical trivia — along with the story of the production, from the White House to the Richard Rogers Theater. $24


The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe

by Edgar Allan Poe – “The Raven” is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s all dread that rolls off the tongue as if it were joy. $5


Leaves of Grass

by Walt Whitman – The grandest celebration of universality, Whitman praises everything and everyone — including, of course, himself. Enjoy the rapturous language and get swept up in Whitman’s love. $4


Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller – Miller’s disillusioned post-WWII portrait of forlorn Willy Loman is as apt today as when it first hit the stage. Feeling comes off the page raw, and the perspective on man’s condition hits close to home. This is the ultimate narrative of the well-meaning but broken, ill-fated male. $8


The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth

by William Wordsworth – Read “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” and see if you don’t fall in love with nature. Can’t remember a poem as beautifully written and as moving, ever. Wordsworth, indeed. $38


The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

by Pablo Neruda – We’ll allow Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto to speak for us here. “The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty“. $18


The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde – Because brevity is the soul of wit, and wit is the soul of Oscar Wilde. $8


The Best of Robert Service

by Robert Service – The kind of Yukon adventure poetry you’ll want to sing out loud while holding a tankard of ale. $16


The Duck Variations

by David Mamet – Mamet’s play about two old men who know nothing about ducks, sitting on a bench talking about ducks. What they’re really talking about is life. $13



Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates – A finalist for a 2016 Pulitzer Prize, Coates, today’s foremost thinker on issues of race, and currently at the height of his career, pens a memoir in the form of a letter to his adolescent son about the place of the black man in America. $13


Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs

by Chuck Klosterman – A poor man’s David Foster Wallace (which is meant as a high compliment), Klosterman examines 21st-century America in ways that are both true and hilarious. From The Real World to Pamela Anderson to the Dixie Chicks, nothing is safe from the open mind, and biting writing, of Klosterman. $11


Less than Nothing

by Slavoj Žižek – As capitalism unravels across the world, Žižek makes that case that we should return to the thinking of Hegel, and in doing so, shares insight on Heidegger, quantum physics and cognitive science. $30



by Marcus Aurelius – Aurelius’s thoughts on Stoic philosophy serve as the original tome of self-improvement and guidance. $7


Old Masters

by Thomas Bernhard – In this short “comedy,” Bernhard unleashes a seething rant about Western art and music, and people’s misguided ideas of perfection. Staged as an interaction between two friends in a Viennese museum, this book is both pessimistic and comforting at the same time. $15


A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

by David Foster Wallace – David Foster Wallace aims his greatest weapon — his genius, depressive thinking — at a variety of essays. The title story involves a short stint on a luxury cruise ship, during which the author turns a very simple question — “why?” — into a full-blown report on humanity, pampering and jaded disgust aboard one of man’s most astounding creations. $9


Me Talk Pretty One Day

by David Sedaris – A collection of essays providing a humorous lens to the struggles of trudging through life both at home and abroad. $12


One Man’s Meat

by E. B. White – Classic essays on Maine life — that apply pretty much anywhere. $17



by H. L. Mencken – Mencken was sharp as hell, both in his way with words and his point-by-point destruction of foolishness, bigotry and some of life’s biggest questions. Read “Exeunt Omnes” for a plain, serious, disarming examination of death. $47



by Henry David Thoreau – A thoughtful exploration that moves through the simplest of acts with a cadence of comforting language. $8


The Federalist Papers

by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay – Want to understand the Constitution better? A few takers. These 85 essays published between 1787 and 1788 under the pseudonym, Publius, made the public case for ratifying the law of the land. $7



by Jean Baudrillard – There is no longer any reality or meaning; they’ve been replaced by signs and symbols. The Matrix borrowed heavily from Baudrillard’s theories. $10


Letters from a Stoic

by Seneca – The handbook on seeking wisdom. $10


On Photography

by Susan Sontag – An important collection of essays about the history and role of images by an American intellectual celebrity, back when we had those. $11

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