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Some books have shaped young hearts, others challenged the minds of professionals and entrepreneurs, and still others shared insights from the greatest thinkers and intellects to ever live.
As an author (of fantasy and science fiction) myself, I’ve been shaped in a myriad of ways by these truly once-in-a-generation masterpieces. So of course I had to go and put together a list of the absolute best books I’ve ever read.
Below, my list features 20 of the most influential books I’m certain any guy should read at least once in his life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lover of fiction (like me), a die-hard self-help reader, or someone with eclectic tastes who just loves to absorb the written word—I guarantee these books will change, inform, and expand your view of the world.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is a call to adventure cleverly concealed within the pages of a novel. This book is based around true events lived by the author himself (along with a friend), and gives you a glimpse into some of the most fascinating places around the USA. But it’s also a stirring look at the reality of the American dream, the counter-culture movement of the 1950s, and a compelling tale rife with injustice, fear, hatred, abuse of power, and misogyny that will make you more aware of the truth of our modern society.
Few books can hold a candle to Less than Zero when it comes to offering a raw and unfiltered a look in the sex-and-drug-fueled culture that dominated in the 1980s.
On every page, you are haunted by the characters’ fears of extinction and loss of identity, repeatedly exposed to the disaffection, passivity, and nihilism so inherent among the youth of today as well as days past, and given a taste of the feelings of emptiness that comes from an empty life of excess.
Slaughterhouse Five is a truly groundbreaking novel that offers insight into the real meaning of free will, the value of truth, and the price of morality. It evokes the true horrors of war, yet intersperses that horror with moments of comedy to underscore humanity’s dependence on humor to survive even the darkest environments.
Best of all, it wades through the worst depravities to end on a note of hopefulness, that world can, indeed, be better. From the darkness comes a light that shines even decades after the book was written!
Few books can truly encapsulate the strength of a bond between father and son like The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s truly outstanding work of post-apocalyptic fiction.
Though written for mature audiences, the language and content are still approachable for young readers, and the themes—of perseverance, nihilism, and the true cost of violence—are easily understood even by teenagers and older children. It’s also rife with ample literary devices and serves as a sterling example of how a book should be written—perfect for aspiring authors of all ages.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has been called a “true American novel” for good reason! It’s not only a rags-to-riches story emblematic of the American Dream, it explores how destructive the American Dream can be and the high price Americans pay for it. Set in the romantic Roaring 20s, it’s still relevant to this day, with a modernity that remains evergreen even now, nearly 100 years after it was written.
Brave New World taps into the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of our modern society and its never-ending drive for perfection, confronting us with our own worst natures through the pages of a post-apocalyptic masterpiece. A utopia where everything that should be perfect actually serves to highlight the danger of squashing out imperfection at any cost—for with it, there is the risk of losing the individuality that makes the human race so fascinating and diverse.
Dive into the pages of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and prepare for the greatest road trip adventure story ever written.
Written in direct parallel to the excesses of the author’s own life, this novel is a drug-addled exploration of some of the most absurd experiences that may or may not be real-to-life, with a manic energy that never slows down when the madcap exploits give way to drawn-out essay-like monologues on the failure of the 1960s counterculture movement. It’s guaranteed to be a once-in-a-lifetime reading experience like no other!
I, and countless other fantasy authors, owe much of who we are to J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpieces. And yes, I say masterpieces (plural) because The Hobbit is one of the greatest works of literature ever written, a near-perfect example of fiction as well-suited to the intellectual adult as the adventure-loving child. A world so dynamic and rich it is still the subject of study for scholars, countless characters so compelling they feel alive, and a history as complex as our own.
Wrapped up in its pages are adventure, philosophy, religion, language, culture, magic, mystery, and everything else readers have to experience at least once—but preferably again and again—to truly understand what makes The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit some of the greatest works of fiction ever written.
Stephen King is one of the best-known horror authors of all time, and few of his works are as important or impactful as The Stand, a post-apocalyptic tale that highlights the extremes to which humanity can rise and fall, the darkness and light within us all.
In a world devastated by plague, where people are forced to band together to survive, the story shows the endless struggle between good and evil in a way that feels more and more plausible with every passing year. A true masterpiece that fans of both fiction and non-fiction will love.
Every one of us have faced a “Catch-22” at some point in our lives, a situation from which there is no “good” outcome.
This novel takes a look at exactly how people deal with these situations and crafts a truly eloquent and poetic argument against the never-ending lunacy of bureaucratic organizations.
Though the book can sometimes feel disorienting, even confusing, it’s a truly sterling example of how madcap the world can be when petty rule-following trumps common sense—which, sadly, it so often does.
Though Dumas is best known for his swashbuckling adventures in The Three Musketeers, I’d argue that The Count of Monte Cristo is his best work by far.
This novel still stands as one of the greatest revenge stories of all time, following the slow, plodding steps the young Dantès takes to wreak his vengeance against the jealous rival who stole his wife and had him imprisoned for treason. Every page is a thrilling adventure set in the colorful 1800s, and it’s a rollicking good time underscored by the ever-burning anger of the protagonist who will stop at nothing and do everything to see his rival punished.
We could all stand to be a bit more winsome and have greater influence over the people in our lives. Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece of non-fiction is a hallmark of the self-help genre, offering simple yet transformative insights into how to excel at conversations and improve every relationship, be they personal or professional. Learn how to become a true leader and talk people into your way of thinking—it will make you a better man in every aspect of your life.
For decades, brave climbers have been challenging the heights of Mount Everest—all too often with disastrous and even fatal consequences. Into Thin Air is a masterpiece detailing the truth of the world’s tallest mountain and the challenges faced on the arduous climb.
It’s a deep-dive into the obsession that drives climbers to attempt the impossible, to risk life and limb to achieve something that few others ever have or will. It’s a truly vivid, something hypnotic account of what it takes to climb Mount Everest.
Few authors have influenced modern literature as much as Hemingway, and few works of literature are as well-regarded as The Old Man and the Sea. It’s a story that looks at the truth of the world: that everything is shades of gray, neither black nor white. It explores themes incredibly relevant to us today—how duty, pride, and reason drive us to extremes, what our place in the world truly is, and how suffering can be borne without complaint. It’s a meaningful story with every word carefully chosen to maximize the impact and leave an impression on your mind and soul that will linger for years after reading.
On first glance, Animal Farm is a cute work of fiction. Reality portrayed through farm life, sheep and pigs and dogs who are just trying to enjoy a peaceful existence. But the story steadily takes darker and darker turns, until it gives a stirring and chilling depiction of what humanity is truly capable of, the depths to which some are willing to stoop in the name of gathering and protecting power.
It’s one of the greatest and most sobering reminders that there is the capacity for great evil within all of us, and how people can be so easily manipulated to terrible ends.
You won’t find a more humorous, enjoyable romp through the cosmos than Douglas Adams’ work! And yet, beneath the surface, you’ll find it’s a tale about enjoying the simplicity of the life we currently have rather than always dreaming of something greater. It’s a reminder from the author to enjoy our existence as best we can and make the most of the time we have—whether it’s on this world, some distant planet, or a spaceship filled with insane androids, aliens, and creatures rocketing through the void. Prepare to laugh and feel in equal measure.
The Art of War is more than just a treatise on military tactics; it’s a masterpiece on conflict resolution and self-comprehension. The teachings in the book can be applied to real-life battles, but also in every battle you have to face in your own personal life. From building habits to choosing our battlefield to growing patience to understanding yourself and your enemy, the book is filled with lessons that can improve your life and make you a better person in a surprising number of ways.
Sherlock Holmes is the detective that first sparked interest in detective stories and police procedurals, and to this day, remains the best of the best. Cunning, clever, intelligent to an almost superhuman degree, sometimes ruthless, yet always human and relatable, he is a character who continues to enchant audiences 100+ years after first being penned.
No matter how many times you read over his stories—both the short “case of the week” mysteries and the longer novel-length mysteries—there will always be something exciting to discover.
As Peter Falk’s character says in the movie, “Princess Bride is the perfect story.” It has it all: action, adventure, romance, mystery, intrigue, suspense, betrayals, and, of course, Rodents of Unusual Size. It’s a celebration of true love and the sacrifices heroes must make, but every scene is cleverly written and loaded with wit, color, charm, and a dash of swashbuckling derring-do. It’s a book as wonderful for adults as for teenagers and children, with something for everyone.
Is it ever morally acceptable—even justifiable—to commit a crime? That is the question posed by Fyodor Dostoevsky in his work, Crime and Punishment, along with the question: can a crime be pardoned if the reason behind it is morally “good”?
This book is a riveting look at actions and consequences, intentions and outcomes, and the truth underlying our understanding of what “good and evil” truly are. All of this is set against the backdrop of urban St. Petersburg in the mid-1800s, a far more picturesque yet gritty time that makes for the perfect framework against which to explore morality.
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