21 books every man should read at least once

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books every man should read once

One question I’m sometimes asked is about the best books for men. Now, I want to start by saying that I don’t necessarily think there’s such a thing as books for men.

But that said, there are some books that I’ve recommended time and time again to men in particular, including both fond readers and people who usually don’t like reading.

Below, I’ve shared my list of books that I think every man should read in their lifetime, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend all of them.

The books come together to form a well-rounded reading list that I think any reader would benefit from.

Read on for non-fiction and fiction must-reads and themes as broad as sci-fi, philosophy, history, memoir, magical realism, stoicism, and classic novels. Dig in.

(Note: Looking for the best new releases? I’ve also shared the best new books for men to read in 2023.)

The best books that every man should read in his lifetime

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson book cover

How much do you know about our world (or remember from school)? A Short History of Nearly Everything is Bill Bryson’s acclaimed whistle-stop tour of the history of our planet, starting with the Big Bang and sharing how we got to the present day.

With help from some of the world’s most acclaimed minds, Bill Bryson offers an unparalleled scientific history of Earth.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas cover (Penguin Classics)

If you picked up the 1276-page Penguin paperback of The Count of Monte Cristo, you probably wouldn’t guess it’s a fantastic book about justice and revenge – and difficult to put down once you start reading.

Reddit user Mammoth-Corner shares my thoughts in this comment: “Monte Cristo is ridiculously good. I put the audiobook on while I was taking a walk and wound up going in loops for two hours because I didn’t want to go back inside and turn it off.”

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman cover

How do you want to spend your time here on earth? Four Thousand Weeks is one of the best books to help you answer that question.

Read this philosophical bestseller from 2021 to examine your life and find a definition of productivity that reflects how you want to live, not just work. 

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon book cover (SF Masterworks)

Flowers for Algernon was one of the first sci-fi books I read, and it’s a modern classic – about experimental surgery, intelligence, and, well, mice.

While reading it on the London Underground, someone interrupted me to share their excitement about the book and invite me to their sci-fi book club (which unfortunately I couldn’t join).

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes cover

Published in 2013, I Am Pilgrim is one of the most popular thrillers of the last decade. It’s about an atrocious act against humanity and the one person who has a chance of stopping it: Pilgrim, the codename for a man who doesn’t exist.

I bought the book after seeing several people glued to their copy on the train who would get off at their stop and immediately sit down to keep reading it.

Then, I became one of those people… then my Dad, my brother, husband, friends. It’s a fast-paced and unputdownable book, even for people who don’t usually read. (Although you do have to overlook some perspectives on race and gender that other reviewers have discussed.) As of November 2023, you can finally read Terry Hayes’s next book.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker cover

The Color Purple is the iconic and heartbreaking modern classic that broke the silence around so many rarely discussed topics.

In this Pulitzer Prize winner which will change how you view the world, Alice Walker narrates the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, and resilience and bravery.

Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to each other across time, distance, and silence through a series of letters spanning twenty years.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi cover

When Breath Becomes Air is an incredibly moving memoir about the beauty and fragility of life.

This must-read book for men (and women) is Paul Kalanithi’s story of how, at the age of thirty-six and on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, he received a diagnosis that immediately changed everything.

One day Paul was a doctor treating the sick, and the next he was a patient coming to terms with the time he had left. This is a beautifully written book that will stick with you long after reading – and even inspire big changes in your own life.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald cover

Even without having read it, you might have an idea of what happens in The Great Gatsby. A man orders his life around one desire, to be reunited with the love he lost five years earlier. This leads him to vast riches and eventually back to her – but also to tragedy.

The Great Gatsby is one of those literary classics that once you read it, you pick up on cultural references everywhere.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cover

From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah is the story of two Nigerians making their way in the US and the UK.

As one of the best modern novels, this book raises universal questions of race, belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing deserves a place on every bookshelf.

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton cover

The Course of Love is a guidebook to love, really. Although it’s structured as a novel, it’s interjected with philosopher Alain de Botton’s trademark comments on the psychology, sociology, and philosophy of love.

Why is love never smooth sailing? Why do our partners infuriate us? And why is our partner so uniquely infuriating? 

Read this book if you’d like an answer – I think it’s one of the most impactful non-fiction books you can read.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez cover

William Kennedy wrote that One Hundred Years of Solitude is “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”

It’s hard to disagree. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the magnetic story of the rise and fall, birth and demise of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family.

It’s one of the most influential modern classics from the master of magical realism, as well as a masterclass in the art of fiction.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams cover

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is both a modern classic and a book that’s super easy and fun to read.

This beautifully silly feel-good classic follows the galactic (mis)adventures of Arthur Dent, beginning one Thursday lunchtime when the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius cover (Penguin Classics)

Meditations is one of the best books I read during a period of my life marked by insecurity and soul searching, while at university in the southwest of England.

This is the first self-help book ever written, and it’s just as applicable today as it was two thousand years ago. Get your own copy and return to it when you’re feeling lost or lacking motivation.

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’”

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir cover

Even if you’ve seen the movie, The Martian is one of those books that captures everything you love about the movie and gives you more material to enjoy.

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American ReadThe Martian is the bestselling story of astronaut Mark Watney – the first person to walk on Mars, and now, perhaps the first person to spend their last moments there too.

Drawing on his ingenuity, engineering skills, and relentless refusal to quit, Mark is determined to figure out a way back home. If you love this, check out Andy Weir’s latest bestseller, Project Hail Mary.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry cover

Lonesome Dove is the Pulitzer Prize­–winning American classic of the American West, following two aging Texas Rangers embarking on one last adventure.

If you lurk in the bookish corners of Reddit, you’ll stumble upon this recommendation all the time – and for good reason.

Read Lonesome Dove if you want to voyage into the last defiant wilderness of America and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws. It’s one of the best literary classics for guys to read of all time (and the huge number of pages will feel like nothing).

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky cover

The Brothers Karamazov is one of the most important pieces of classic literature, but also an incredibly transformative book that might just change the way you live.

In this must-read book, Dostoevsky portrays human experience through the story of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons – Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha.

Set during both a golden age and a monumental turning point in the author’s culture, read this to witness a changing country and think about where you are in your own life, too.

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin cover (updated for 2018)

This finance classic is perhaps the best reminder of what money is really for: life. If you read one personal finance book, I’d recommend choosing this one.

Your Money or Your Life is not just about managing money, it’s also about creating a life you love. And that’s something worth thinking about as early (and regularly) as possible.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory by Richard Powers cover

The Overstory is a modern classic, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and one of my all-time favourite books. It’s also a paean to the vast, interconnected, and magnificently intricate world that we depend on in so many ways: the world of trees.

In this stunning and ambitious novel, Richard Powers weaves together interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

If you love The Overstory, I’d recommend reading Greenwood by Michael Christie next. It’s a fantastic book with many similarities, and another of my top choices for the best modern books for men.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy cover (Penguin Clothbound Classics)

Reading War and Peace is what inspired me to start this website. It’s a huge, all-encompassing, and life-changing classic book. It’s also the best book I’ve ever read about life.

Sure it’s not the easiest to read by any means, but choosing the right translation for you can help a lot. (TLDR: I love Anthony Briggs’s translation.)

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl cover

Every person should read this book during their lifetime. Man’s Search for Meaning is the classic tribute to hope, purpose, and strength during impossible times.

This must-read book is Viktor Frankl’s account of unimaginable circumstances, but also his exploration of logotherapy: his theory that the primary human drive is the discovery and pursuit of what we find meaningful.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese cover

When I worked in my village bookshop growing up, Cutting for Stone was the novel that the shop owner recommended to everyone who didn’t know what to read.

It’s the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Ethiopia.

Bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.


For more of the best books for men to read now, head over to…

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