While society is firmly entrenched in technology, there is still something to be said about being well-read. Not only does having a firm grasp of the classics allow you to participate in discussions and recognize references to them, but literature also has the capacity to challenge your world-view and expand on your horizons. Here are 15 of the best and top thought-provoking reads to take on your next vacation or enjoy on long winter nights.
1. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Considered among the best English-language novels of the 20th century, Brave New World paints a disturbing picture of the future. Advances in reproductive technology and psychological conditioning are explored. Huxley creates a world where nobody has a family, gives birth or gets married. Everyone has sex with everyone else, everyone is created with a job in mind for them and no one ever wants to spend time alone. This novel is shocking and concerning on a lot of levels, which is one of the reasons it is so popular. It will make you examine your own thoughts about the direction society is taking, and how you feel about the issues presented in the work. Just be sure not to draw any paranoia from it, as Huxley’s novels are famous for bringing out anxiety in sensitive readers!
2. The Trial, by Franz Kafka
One of Kafka’s most well-known works, The Trial tells the story of Josef K. Beginning with his arrest for an unnamed crime and ending with his clandestine death, this novel studies the philosophical nature of crime, punishment and the senselessness of a small life in a huge, dystopian society. Long considered on of the best German novels, period, The Trial is an essential read for men. It will allow you to take a closer look into the meaning of your life and how you view the legal system, as well as making a metaphoric comparison between the imagined laws and the implied social constructs of current society. A thought-provoking and riveting read, you should definitely add this work to your list.
3. The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli
This short political treatise discusses the philosophy of power needed to be a prince, king or president. While most men do not aspire to absolute rule, the principals outlined in this work can be applied to attaining any goal you may have in mind, from capturing a promotion to winning over the lady of your dreams. The moral code of Machiavelli’s work is decidedly questionable, which has led to spirited debate since its publication in 1513, and the discussion is still ongoing. Long touted as realistic rather than idealistic, this is a book written for men of action. If you haven’t read this masterpiece of practicality, you should pick up a copy as soon as possible.
4. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurty
This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1986. Detailing the lives of several retired Texas Rangers on a cattle drive, the novel is a period piece outlining the psyche of the American male during the time of the Wild West. This piece is among one of the best books for men, as it is both engaging and instructive. The relationship between Call and McCrae is drawn with realistic detail, and the trek is reminiscent of Captain Ahab’s search for his elusive whale. Huge in scope and long on action, this novel is a fine example of a period piece that is applicable to everyday life, friendships and interactions.
5. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Attributed to Chinese military strategist and tactician Sun Tzu, this military treatise offers up an excellent series of theories concerning war. These ideas have proven to be effective in everything from business transactions to legal strategy. Although the text is thousands of years old, the ideas presented remain topical and can be applied to a variety of situations in your own life. Listed consistently among the best books for men, this works deserves a dedicated space in your permanent collection.
6. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Completed just months before Dostoyevsky’s death, this novel was originally published as a serial and finished in 1880. Detailing the life of a man who pays little to no attention to his multiple sons, this story is a cautionary tale that encourages discussion about religion, spirituality, morality and free will. The novel is lauded for its complex story arc and intellectuals world-wide have praised it as a triumph of literature. While there are several translations available, the best English version is widely believed to be David McDuff’s, which delves into the idioms and fun nature of the original German without losing the voice in translation.
7. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Detailing the life, wrongful imprisonment, escape and subsequent revenge plan of Edmond Dantes, this book is fast paced and has a tendency to draw you in. Dumas, who also penned the wildly-popular The Three Musketeers, takes the reader on a delightful, well-crafted adventure that describes a man’s life in great detail. A page-turner that may very well leave you wanting more, The Count of Monte Cristo is an essential part of any man’s bookcase.
8. The Picture of Dorian Grey, by Oscar Wilde
This work of Gothic fiction is a time-honored class thought obscene in its own time, and is also the only complete and published novel by Oscar Wilde. Dorian Grey’s beauty catches the eye of painter Basil Hallward. Basil becomes infatuated with Dorian and Dorian expresses a desire to preserve his beauty by selling his soul. The deal is struck, and the painting of Dorian takes the brunt of his sins and transgressions from his life of debauchery. Critics of the day decried this as a study of excess and hedonism, while completely ignoring the cautionary nature of the tale. This is quintessential reading for every man.
9. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Written as a series of letters, this short novel discusses how to corrupt a human soul. As the book progresses, the reader learns that the writer, Screwtape, actually lives and works in one of the lower circles of Hell and is acting as a mentor to his nephew in this repugnant task. Original and quirky, this is one novel you don’t want to miss. It will challenge how you view the machinations of organized religion in your life and in society as a whole.
10. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
This story, crafted by master of American literature Ernest Hemingway, explains the predicament of the ‘lost generation’ born right after World War I. Chronicling a group of friends who travel from Paris to Pamplona, Spain to see the running of the bulls and the bullfights, the story examines the fallout of a post-war society, as well as themes of death, love, the constant renewal cycle of nature and the issues surrounding masculinity during the time period. All of this is done in Hemingway’s signature, minimalist style and will leave you wanting to explore his other works.
11. Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
A fictionalized account of the life of a man during the time of Buddha, this short, lyrical novel has long been praised as an amazing tale of self-actualization and spiritual enlightenment. Men should read this book because it will help you to connect to your own soul and find your own personal path to happiness, regardless of whether or not you follow any particular religious doctrine. The story is vivid and fast-paced, making it a quick but meaningful read on your next business trip or vacation.
12. Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Written as a series of personal musings, this collection of writings was penned by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius almost two thousand years ago. However, the passage of time has done nothing to dim the ideas he wrote about or their topicality to life in our era. Stoicism and collective thought processes are discussed at length, which can help you to greater understand and refine your own world view. This work is considered among the must-read books for men because it was written with absolutely no artifice or intent to sway the reader. Aurelius wrote it as a private journal of sorts and never intended to publish it. This fact makes it among the most frank and open works of personal philosophy available.
13. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
This novel is modern, published in 1988, but is still considered one of the most powerful books for men out there. It tells the story of a young shepherd from Andalusia and his quest to find riches in Egypt. The novel has been translated into 56 different languages, earning it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. This speaks volumes for the work’s massive appeal, and should earn it a spot on every man’s reading list as an example of a triumphant, modern novel.
14. The Arabian Nights – Tales From 1001 Nights, by Richard Burton
This ancient collection of tales most often includes stories from all around the African continent, Arabia, Persia, India, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Some you may remember as fairy tales from your younger years, while others may be completely new. As each story stands alone, you can read this book over the course of months or years, parceling out the tales one per evening until you have read them all. They are not only thought-provoking and fun, but make for great bedtime stories to tell your kids or favorite nieces and nephews.
15. The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss
For those who are tired of being chained to their cubicle or desk for what seems every waking hour, this self-help book provides a completely new and interesting way of handling your work life, automating your income and segueing out of a normal position. If you’ve ever wanted to retire at 40, this is one men’s book you don’t want to miss. The ideas presented are solid and can be implemented in nearly every industry you can think of. Don’t let this gem of a book pass you by, as the information and thought process contained inside could help you make huge changes in your life.