Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information, and you never know when it might come in handy. The more knowledge you have, the better-equipped you are to tackle any challenge you’ll ever face. Ι present a list of 10 books every man should read over the course of his lifetime. This library will expand mind and soul, build new mental models, and allow you to become more culturally literate.
The Republic by Plato
The Republic is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning the definition of justice and how a just city-state should be ordered and characterized. It is the great philosopher’s best-known work and has proven to be one of history’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory. In it, Socrates and other various interlocutors discuss the meaning of justice and examine whether or not the just man is happier than the unjust man, as well as the theory of Forms, the immortality of the soul, and the role of the philosopher in society.
1984 by George Orwell
Set in a future dystopian world of perpetual war and constant government surveillance, our protagonist, Winston, is a quintessential everyman who works for the Ministry of Truth rewriting history to the government’s party lines rhetoric. He comes upon a secret organization which seeks to destroy the state, and together with a mysterious woman, joins the cause to fight against Big Brother. Although published in the late 1940s, it resonates today more strongly than ever.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Set in Italy during World War II, Catch-22 is the story of malingering bombardier John Yossarian. He’s a hero, but also enraged at the idea that there are multitudes of people he has never met who are trying to kill him. Beyond that, his own army has enacted Catch-22 — a bureaucratic rule which states a man is insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, yet if he makes a request to be removed from duty, he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. And so a military satire, and a phrase synonymous with the word “conundrum,” is born.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The novel that catapulted Hemingway to worldwide fame and success. The Sun Also Rises follows Jake Barnes and a group of ex-patriot friends through Spain and France, with plenty of wine-drinking and bull-fighting. The novel is a bit semi-autobiographical in that the main character is trying to deal with his war wounds — both physical and emotional — and escape to the supposed romanticism of traveling and eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
The ultimate tale of betrayal and revenge. Edmund Dantes, days before marrying his beloved Mercedes, is brutally betrayed, arrested for treason, and consequently taken to a prison on an island off the French coast. The story goes on to tell of his escape from prison and his becoming wealthy and re-entering society as an educated and sophisticated Count. He plots his revenge, eyes reclaiming his love, and ultimately…
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye is the last book in Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe detective series. In it, Marlowe befriends a down-on-his-luck war veteran, Terry Lennox, with the scars to prove it. Then he finds out that Terry has a very wealthy wife, who he’s divorced and re-married, and who ends up dead. Now Lennox is on the lam, and the cops are after Marlowe. Full of gangsters and beautiful femme fatales, this is a hard-boiled novel at its best.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A classic American work, Huck Finn is often required reading in middle school, and for good reason. One of the first books to be written in vernacular (that is, with language of a particular region), it can be seen as both scathing satire of the antebellum South, or as a coming-of-age story for the young Huck Finn. Finn — a white boy — teams up with fugitive adult slave Jim as they flee by raft on the Mississippi River, and float into many an adventure together.
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
The central work of Aristotle’s thoughts on ethics, it details how a man should best live. Topics covered are virtue, right actions, and specific qualities men should strive after like courage, justice, magnanimity, temperance, etc. A classic philosophical work which every man should have an understanding of.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Every man needs to read some Shakespeare during his lifetime. Hamlet is a great place to start. You know the line: “to be or not to be,” but do you know the context and real meaning behind it? Doubtful. The cliff notes intro to the story: Prince Hamlet is summoned home from school to attend his father’s funeral, and is shocked to learn his mother already remarried. The Queen has wed Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius, his father’s brother. And worse, Claudius has crowned himself King despite the fact that Hamlet was meant to be the heir to the throne.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Dickens should be a part of every man’s reading life, and A Tale of Two Cities is a good starter. It’s set in London and Paris during the French Revolution and depicts the plight of the French peasantry, their turn to violence towards the aristocrats who marginalized them, and the parallels to London society during the same period.