On the Books Men Must Read (Project Introduction)

This post is a revisiting of something I wrote on a previous blog.

I breached it, for the first time, in one of my previous posts. The topic of masculinity has been an interest of mine since my undergrad days. About a year ago, I set about the project of reading a collection of books described as “books every man must read.” I drew my list from two sources: Esquire and The Art of Manliness. With lists of 75 and 100, respectively, I had a veritable library to make my way through in the hopes of discovering their manly lessons.

Revisiting the Project

In the post I wrote on a previous blog, I joked about testing my masculinity against a few of these books and provided a series of lessons that I needed to learn. By and large, the whole post was tongue and cheek. Since that post, I have largely strayed from the list, delving into more straightforward works of philosophy. Now, I would like to return to my project.

Combined, the two lists total 175 entries, of which there are only 15 duplicates. This means, the definitive list total 160 individual books. I won’t be reading the entire list. I’m a relatively slow reader, so 160 books would take me an obnoxiously long time to read.

Instead, I will start with 20 books. For each book I will provide a plot summary, reflections on the book’s implications on masculinity, and lessons I’m taking from the book. Currently, I’m planning on writing one post for each book, but may do two books per post.

Project adjustments can be found here. 

Initial Impressions

On the whole, I would say the Esquire list is the stronger of the two. It’s not that the Art of Manliness list is full of bad books, the Manliness list just feels contrived for the purpose of being well-rounded. Some of the books seem included because they are a part of the literary canon not because they have any intrinsic value for men.

Truth be told, there’s a lot of detritus in the definitive list: the unnecessarily old (e.g., The Histories), the unnecessarily long (e.g., War and Peace), the unnecessarily obscure (e.g., Book of Deeds), and the unnecessarily obvious (e.g., Catcher in the Rye).

Furthermore, there is a dearth of work by non-male, non-white/European, and non-heterosexual authors.  For example, only five of the authors are women. Likewise, Sun Tzu makes up half of the authors from Asia. You know, because Asian literature has barely progressed since 500 BCE (and comes from East Asia only).

Not that this is surprising, both of the compilers were male, white, and heterosexual. Likewise, they were compiling lists for their readerships, which likely have clustered demographics similar to those of the authors. Long story short, I do not think the compilers were trying to ouster minority voices, but it happened anyway.

The Project List

The list will consist of 20 books. I have not read any of them on a previous occasion. A few of the books were selected because I have wanted to read them, but most were chosen because the title sounded interesting.

Without further delay, here’s the list:

What I Will Read

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
The Professional, by W.C. Heinz
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Lonesome Dove: A Novel by Larry McMurtry
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Going Native, by Stephen Wright
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

Lastly, because I know everyone will want it, here is the definitive list:

[A]: Art of Manliness list only
[E]: Esquire list only
[B]: Both lists
*: Books I’d read previously

The Definitive List

1. 1984 by George Orwell [A]*
2. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole [B]
3. A Fan’s Notes, by Frederick Exley. [E]
4. A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway [A]*
5. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor [E]
6. A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean [A]
7. A Sense of Where You Are by John McPhee [E]
8. A Separate Peace by John Knowles [A]
9. A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter [E]
10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain [B]*
11. Affliction, by Russell Banks [E]
12. All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque [A]
13. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren [E]
14. American Pastoral by Philip Roth [E]
15. American Tabloid, by James Ellroy [E]
16. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner [E]
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell [A]*
18. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins [A]
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner [E]*
20. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand [A]
21. Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X [B]
22. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche [A]
23. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy [B]*
24. Bluebeard: A Novel by Kurt Vonnegut [A]
25. Book of Deeds by Christine de Pisan [A]
26. Boy Scouts Handbook: The Official Handbook for Boys, The Original Edition by Boy Scouts of America [A]
27. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley [A]*
28. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck [A]
29. Catch-22: A Novel by Joseph Heller [A]*
30. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders [E]
31. Collected Stories of John Cheever [E]
32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky [A]*
33. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand [A]
34. Deliverance by James Dickey [E]
35. Dispatches, by Michael Herr [E]
36. Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone [E]
37. Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra [A]
38. Dubliners by James Joyce [E]
39. East of Eden by John Steinbeck [A]
40. Essential Manners for Men: What to Do, When to Do It, and Why by Emily Post [A]
41. Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard [A]
42. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway [B]
43. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco [A]
44. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley [A]*
45. From Here to Eternity by James Jones [A]
46. Going Native, by Stephen Wright [E]
47. Hamlet by William Shakespeare [A]*
48. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen [A]*
49. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad [E]
50. Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson [E]
51. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie [A]
52. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer [A]
53. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer [A]
54. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison [E]*
55. King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard [A]
56. Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges [E]
57. Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison [E]
58. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans [E]
59. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes [A]*
60. Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans by Plutarch [A]
61. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov [E]
62. Lonesome Dove: A Novel by Larry McMurtry [B]
63. Lord of the Flies by William Golding [A]*
64. Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis [E]
65. Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett [A]
66. Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian. [E]
67. Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie [E]
68. Moby-Dick or, The Whale by Herman Melville [B]*
69. Native Son, by Richard Wright [E]
70. On the Road by Jack Kerouac [A]*
71. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey [E]
72. Paradise Lost by John Milton [A]*
73. Plainsong, by Kent Haruf [E]
74. Politics by Aristotle [A]*
75. Rabbit, Run by John Updike [E]
76. Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates [E]
77. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe [A]
78. Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt [A]
79. Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond by Denis Johnson [A]
80. Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson [A]*
81. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut [B]*
82. So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell [E]
83. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron [E]
84. Steppenwolf: A Novel by Hermann Hesse [A]
85. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs [A]
86. The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow [E]*
87. The American Boy’s Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do It by Daniel Carter Beard [A]
88. The Art of Warfare by Sun Tzu [A]
89. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin [A]
90. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn [A]
91. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky [B]*
92. The Call of the Wild by Jack London [B]*
93. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger [A]*
94. The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett [E]
95. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas [A]
96. The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. [E]
97. The Crisis by Winston Churchill [A]
98. The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden [A]
99. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac [B]
100. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri [A]*
101. The Federalist Papers by John Jay [A]
102. The Frontier In American History by Frederick Jackson Turner [A]
103. The Good War by Studs Terkel [E]
104. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck [B]
105. The Great Bridge, by David McCullough [E]
106. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald [A]*
107. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux [A]
108. The Histories by Herodotus [A]
109. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien [A]*
110. The Holy Bible [A]
111. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky [A]
112. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer [A]*
113. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells [A]
114. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara [B]*
115. The Known World, by Edward P. Jones [E]
116. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler [A]
117. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov [A]
118. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka [A]*
119. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer [B]
120. The Pearl by John Steinbeck [A]
121. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde [A]
122. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain [E]
123. The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene [E]
124. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli [A]*
125. The Professional, by W.C. Heinz [E]
126. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane [A]*
127. The Republic by Plato [A]*
128. The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe [E]
129. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris [A]
130. The Shining, by Stephen King [E]
131. The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford [E]
132. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarr [E]
133. The Stranger by Albert Camus [A]*
134. The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses by Theodore Roosevelt [A]
135. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss [A]
136. The Thin Red Line: A Novel by James Jones [A]
137. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. [E]*
138. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith [A]
139. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami [E]
140. The Young Man’s Guide by William Alcott [A]
141. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris [A]
142. This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff [E]
143. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis [E]
144. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee [A]*
145. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson [A]
146. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller [B]
147. Ulysses by James Joyce [A]
148. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose [A]
149. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry [E]
150. Underworld, by Don DeLillo [E]
151. Walden by Henry David Thoreau [A]*
152. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy [E]
153. What It Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer [E]
154. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver [E]
155. White Noise by Don DeLillo [A]
156. Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson [E]
157. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell [E]
158. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin [E]
159. Women, by Charles Bukowski [E]*
160. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig [A]*


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