A quick list of great books you may not have considered before
If you’re like me, you’re not satisfied with many of the current lists of best books for men online. A few lists are great, but many others are in an annoying gallery format where you have to click through to even see the next suggestion.
Below are some great book ideas which I’ve split into fiction, memoirs/biographies, self-help and business. I’ve personally read and found value in each book on this list.
The aim is to keep adding to this list to make it a truly great list, so please comment below with your own book suggestions, and I’ll add them to the list.
December 2019 update: Added ‘The Fish That Ate the Whale’ to business books.
Table of contents
- Best true stories and memoirs for men
- Best fiction books for men
- Best self-help books for men
- Best business books for men
Best true stories and memoirs for men
We Few By Nick Brokhausen
We Few is an intense book about author Nick Brokhausen’s time in the Vietnam War as a US Special Forces soldier.
Not only does it go through the brutal battles he fought deep in the jungles alongside US and friendly Montagnard soldiers, but also the rampant tomfoolery, practical joking and drinking necessary for these men to cope with such horrible experiences.
The book includes battles and practical jokes that are hard to believe at times because of their magnitude and sheer audacity. Nonetheless it gives an interesting account of the types of dangerous missions these brave American and Vietnamese men were tasked with.
Unbroken By Laura Hillenbrand
Louis Zamperini is the definition of a man with grit and perseverance.
After the beginnings of a successful career as an Olympic runner, Zamperini enlisted in the US Air Force during WWII and was sent to the Pacific theatre as one of the crew members on a bomber.
What followed was an unbelievable and incredibly tough journey after crash landing, surviving at sea for a surprising amount of time and then being imprisoned by the Japanese army. Zamperini then had to figure out how to transition to life back home.
This book portrays the Olympian and airman as a flawed but strong-willed man that we can all draw lessons from.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage By Alfred Lansing
Ernest Shackleton was another man on this list who pitted his iron-will against impossible circumstances.
His plan to cross Antarctica by foot from the South Pole came to an abrupt end before it even began, after his ship Endurance was wedged tight in between ice packs. What followed was a fight for survival as he and his men were forced to live on the ice and plot a daring escape to be rescued.
Shackleton’s story is a lesson in perseverance, patience and looking after your own against all odds. It explores what it’s like to be a leader in a tough, desperate and drawn-out situation.
Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs By Buddy Levy
Where do you begin with the story of Hernán Cortés and King Montezuma?
What would eventually culminate in the toppling of the mighty Aztec empire in modern-day Mexico started with a small band of cruel and determined Spanish soldiers led by the nobleman Cortés.
Conquistador is fascinating because it explains how Cortés used his deception, cunning and more advanced weaponry to defeat an army and state much larger than his own small force.
Levy’s account is written in a way which feels like a gripping work of fiction, even though it is a tragic historical account.
With the Old Breed By E.B Sledge
The Pacific theatre in WWII saw some brutal fighting between the US and Japanese forces, and E.B Sledge’s memoirs explore the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa through his own eyes as a fresh marine.
It’s an at times graphic account, and Sledge provides an honest description of the chaos of war.
Sledge’s experience at the landing of Peleliu alone is worth the price of this book. Here’s an excerpt:
“I picked up my mortar ammo bag and slung it over my left shoulder, buckled my helmet chin strap, adjusted my carbine sling over my right shoulder, and tried to keep my balance. My heart pounded. Our amtrac came out of the water and moved a few yards up the gently sloping sand.
“Hit the beach!” yelled an NCO moments before the machine lurched to a stop.
The men piled over the sides as fast as they could. I followed Snafu, climbed up, and planted both feet firmly on the left side so as to leap as far away from it as possible. At that instant a burst of machine-gun fire with white-hot tracers snapped through the air at eye level, almost grazing my face. I pulled my head back like a turtle, lost my balance, and fell awkwardly forward down onto the sand in a tangle of ammo bag, pack, helmet, carbine, gas mask, cartridge belt, and flopping canteens. “Get off the beach! Get off the beach!” raced through my mind.”
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Everest Disaster By John Krakauer
What’s more of a test of your will and determination than climbing the tallest mountain in the world?
Into Thin Air is an eye-witness account of the 1996 storm which caused eight deaths on Mount Everest, the third highest number of deaths in a single day on the mountain.
The book also delves into Krakauer’s motivations for climbing the mountain and the value he saw in mountaineering more generally. It also explores some of the interesting history around Everest.
It’s a gripping read which will fill you with respect for one of the most isolated and remote places in the world.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
How would you respond if you were given only a few months to live? The Last Lecture explores this topic first hand through the account of Randy Pausch. Randy was an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie-Mellon University who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He was given an opportunity to give a final lecture to impart any wisdom he had learned in his short life, and used it as a way to create a long lasting series of life lessons for his young children.
The Last Lecture is a book explaining what he talked about, as well as his life and the other lessons he learned along the way. It’s a great reminder to treat time with the importance it deserves.
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire By Simon Baker
There have been few empires as magnificent and terrible as Ancient Rome, and this book does a great job of telling you about the most important aspects of its history.
It’s an interesting dive into what goes into building an empire of this scale, from the core farmer-soldiers who made up Rome’s armies, to the noblest (and at times craziest) emperors.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life By Walter Isaacson
Benjamin Franklin was not known to me in my childhood (I grew up in sunny Australia), so this book was a great summary of his life and contributions.
Franklin was an entrepreneur, inventor and statesman who embodied the idea of the American frontier sage.
This book dives into his history as an entrepreneur and printer, all the way up to his work dealing with the French and the creation of America’s constitution.
He was also adept at working a room and networking, and this book lists many of the learnings you can apply to your own business dealings, such as:
- His go-to conversation tips to help build rapport
- The power of modesty to help build support for a project
- The importance of image and how he used his image as a noble frontier philosopher and sage to win the French over to support the war of independence
Best fiction books for men
The Last Policeman By Ben H. Winters
How would you live your last months on Earth if you found out an asteroid was heading here? What if you were a policeman, sworn to serve and protect? Would you throw it all away and recklessly enjoy your last days, or would you uphold your oath until the very end?
This is the same conundrum that Detective Hank Palace faces after hearing that the asteroid Maia is heading to Earth in 10 short months.
What follows is an entertaining story as Detective Palace investigates a suicide that he believes to be a murder, while pandemonium is gradually breaking out as the end draws nearer.
Palace is at times a frustratingly straight-laced character, but sticks to his guns in a desperate situation. It’s also interesting to see how his willpower wavers as the asteroid gets closer.
Overall this is a fun novel to read due to the ticking time-bomb element, and the other two books in the trilogy are also interesting.
The Call of the Wild By Jack London
We all have a wild and fiercely individual element within us, and Call of the Wild explores this theme through the story of Buck, a 140 pound St. Bernard Scotch Shepherd half breed.
The story follows Buck from being the pampered king of his home in the Judge family, to his kidnapping and eventual relocation to Alaska during the gold rush of the 1890s to pull sleds.
Buck’s privileged life is turned upside down, and he must learn to steal and fight other dogs and even humans to survive.
It’s an easy read, but one which speaks volumes about resilience and finding your inner well of strength, all the while being drawn to the wild by your instincts.
Shantaram By Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram is an entertaining book about a maximum-security prisoner from Australia who escapes to the slums of Bombay using a fake passport. Once there, he begins living a swashbuckling life, engrossed in the everyday lives of the friendly and warm residents of the slums. At the same time he becomes more and more trusted by the local crime lord of the region, Khader Khan. The book can be a bit far-fetched at times, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
I was gobsmacked when I later learned that the book is partly based on the author’s own life as an escaped convict. Roberts was actually known as the “Gentleman Bandit” because he wore a three-piece suit when robbing banks, only chose targets which had insurance and was always polite during his robberies. He was found 10 years after his escape in Frankfurt and was re-arrested.
Shantaram has some important messages for readers, such as the need to be resourceful in life. It also passes on the message that warmth and brotherhood can sometimes come from the most unexpected places.
The Stand By Stephen King
The Stand is one of my favourite books of all time. Partly because of its post-apocalyptic tale and partly because of King’s trademark style of writing.
The Stand illustrates the age-old battle between good and evil quite literally, with two groups of survivors that gravitate towards each other after a deadly virus sweeps through the USA.
Not only does it flit back and forth between characters we respect and characters we loathe, but King builds an enthralling picture of a world winding down after a pandemic sweeps through it.
Lucifer’s hammer By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Lucifer’s Hammer shares commonalities between The Last Policeman Trilogy and even The Stand.
It explores the devastating aftermath of a comet hitting the Earth, and again tackles the topic of good versus evil as two groups inextricably gravitate towards each other.
It’s a tale that explores the benefits of working together and true strength of character when the world goes to shit.
2001: A Space Odyssey By Arthur C. Clarke
If you loved the original 2001 movie you’ll love this book and its story of space travel and colonies, ancient aliens, future humanity and artificial intelligence run amok.
It delves into the events of the original with much more detail (as is to be expected), and still manages to communicate the intensity of some of the most iconic visual scenes in the movie such as the unveiling of the original monolith.
The book is the first in the series, but I also found the sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two to be enjoyable. The series lost me in the third book 2061: Odyssey Three and ultimately I stopped there.
Zorba the Greek By Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba the Greek has been mentioned in many must-read book lists, and it’s definitely got my recommendation too.
It’s the tale of a narrator, who is a well-read bookworm, and Alexis Zorba, a wild man who operates on feeling and instinct. The two meet and start a mining venture together on Crete.
The tale itself is well-crafted, at times humorous, and paints an entertaining picture of adventure in Crete.
At its core this is a tale about the two sides of the spectrum a man can flit between: freedom, instincts and throwing caution to the wind on the one hand, and history, art and books on the other. Neither is necessarily wrong, but in the middle is where the magic balance lies.
Best self-help books for men
Mindset: The new psychology of success By Carol S. Dweck
This book is an invaluable foundation and reset to harmful ways of thinking that you may have internalised over the years.
The core of Mindset is that there are two ways of thinking, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
Someone with a fixed mindset believes their traits and intelligence are fixed. They believe they can’t get any smarter than they are now, can’t improve on things that they are bad at, and feel that any feedback they receive is personal.
Those with a growth mindset believe that their traits and intelligence are able to be changed. They believe that their natural abilities are just a starting point from which they can improve through effort and practice. They feel that feedback is constructive.
This book is a very useful read to help switch you from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, and provides examples of the two mindsets in business, sports and relationships.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy By William B. Irvine
Call me a cretin, but I’ve tried reading the original stoic texts (Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Letters from a Stoic by Seneca), and have never been able to finish them. I find it hard to tease out the message from these older texts.
If you’re interested in the stoic philosophy but don’t want to get bogged down in the original texts, this is a great foundation to start with.
Irvine explains the history of stoicism and key stoic techniques including negative visualisation and the dichotomy of control. He then goes on to give stoic advice for various life events, and finally gives you tips for implementing a stoic philosophy in modern life.
I actually enjoyed this book more than Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way, because it’s more conceptual than Holiday’s book and doesn’t overwhelm you with a multitude of techniques and ideas.
Improve Your Vision Without Glasses or Contact Lenses: A New Program of Therapeutic Eye Exercises – Dr. Steven M. Beresford, Dr. David W. Muris, Dr. Merrill J. Allen and Dr. Francis A. Young
There’s no meta-message in this book: it does what it says on the cover.
We’re all spending massive amounts of time in front of screens and books, so we should spare a thought for our eyes and take care of them.
This is a very short read and includes a series of quick exercises you can do to improve the health of your eyes, plus a number of booster sequences to help reduce your dependency on glasses if you already have them.
This book has helped me to improve my eyesight, and I’m confident it will help you too.
The Primal Blueprint: Reprogramme Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health and Boundless Energy By Mark Sisson
If you’re like me, you get quickly overwhelmed by the huge amount of information on the internet about what diet to follow.
Mark Sisson’s book gives you a simple and concise set of science-backed rules to follow.
He advocates a “primal” diet and lifestyle which goes back to our ancestral roots. The details of this diet and lifestyle are then clearly explained with Sisson’s “Ten Primal Blueprint Laws” including guidelines on how to be active and healthy, lose weight and more.
These laws are great for internalising and implementing in your own life, and since following them I’ve seen many positive impacts on my health.
Why We Sleep By Matthew Walker
We spend a huge chunk of our lives sleeping, so we should learn how to get it right.
Why We Sleep explains the core principles of sleep, including why we sleep in the first place, what sleep does to the body and brain, the different sleep phases, and more importantly the huge benefits adequate sleep gives you.
Benefits include performance boosts (lack of sleep causes time to physical exhaustion to increase by 10 – 30% and faster lactic acid build ups) and cognitive boosts (sleep helps you to learn and remember information).
Sleep is the original biohack, so before buying a stack of supplements to improve your performance in the gym or your brain function, consider reading this book and implementing its suggestions.
Quiet By Susan Cain
Not everyone shares the same personality traits, and perhaps the difference between introverts and extroverts is the most obvious example of this.
If you’re an introvert, this book will explain most of the behaviours you often thought made you very different to others, but that you could never articulate.
The world is currently set up for extroverts, and this book makes you realise it’s natural and indeed recharging not to do the exact same things as extroverts if you’re an introvert.
It also has some great information on how extroverts and introverts can communicate better, and how to raise a child who is more on the introverted side of the spectrum.
Best business books
Shoe Dog By Phil Knight
The story of Nike, one of the biggest and well known shoe companies in the world, should be required reading for anyone wanting to start a business.
This memoir is told by Phil “Buck” Knight, one of Nike’s co-founders. It starts at the beginnings of Nike in the 50s when it was originally known as Blue Ribbon and was a distributor of Onitsuka shoes in the USA, and ends in 1980 when Nike went public.
This best quality about this book is the honesty Phil Knight brings to the story. He doesn’t cover up his flaws and mistakes, but instead delves into them so you can avoid them yourself. I learned great lessons about business from this book, such as the importance of mentors and the fact that no matter how bad a situation looks there’s always another option or a way forward.
The last chapter of this book alone is worth the price tag, with it serving as a summary of Knight’s learnings and the best takeaways from his story.
The E-Myth Revisited By Michael E. Gerber
If you decide to start your own business, the E-Myth Revisited is a must-read book. Its core message is that most new businesses fail because the owners don’t establish consistent systems and processes and think of their business as a franchise.
While this book was written in 1986 and tends to apply more to businesses with a physical presence, it has some great lessons for anyone starting a business.
For example, thinking of your business as a franchise from day one enables you to not only build a business that produces a consistent product, it also means that you can more easily sell this business later on. This is because it doesn’t rely on you to run successfully.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life By Scott Adams
This book, from the creator of the famous Dilbert cartoon, includes many different ideas to help improve your life and business.
The most helpful piece of information I think you’ll learn from this book is to have a systems-based approach in life rather than a goal-based approach.
A systems-based approach is basically when you do something regularly to increase your odds of achieving something. For example, rather than setting a goal to win three Jiu-Jitsu competitions, I can adhere to a system where I enter in 10 competitions in a year.
In the systems-based approach, I will be a winner if I simply take part in 10 competitions (and hopefully win some along the way anyway). In the goals-based approach, I’m failing at my goal every second that I don’t win three competitions, which is not a positive mental state to be in, nor is it a goal that’s totally in my control.
There’s plenty of other gold in this book, much of it focused towards success. One such example is Adam’s ideas about success. In his opinion, it’s very hard to be the best in the world at one thing, but it’s considerably easier to be good at multiple skills, and each new skill you learn increases your odds at success.
The 4-Hour Work Week By Timothy Ferriss
The 4-Hour Work Week is probably recommended in every business book list on the planet for good reason.
I won’t go over all the benefits that reading this book will confer to you, but some of the standout ideas are:
- The use of freelancers, remote workers and services to help you launch and manage your own business rather than hiring full time employees and running an office
- Prioritising work that falls into the ‘20’ of the 80/20 rule (where 80% of your results are the results of 20% of the work you do)
- How to test your business ideas before committing to them
There are also plenty of productivity tips and life hacks in this book (it’s kind of Tim’s thing), so it’s very much worth the price.
The Millionaire Fastlane By MJ De Marco
The Millionaire Fastlane gave me a mindset shift after reading it, and fired up my desire to be an entrepreneur.
In the book, De Marco explains how he built his own business and went from rags to riches after a chance encounter with a young lamborghini-driving entrepreneur.
De Marco believes we should stay away from traditional finance wisdom which recommends you “get rich slowly”. According to him, this method will see you too old to actually enjoy your wealth.
Instead, The Millionaire Fastlane is a new mindset where you rely on your own business or entrepreneurial ideas to “get rich quick” (but not “get rich easy” as De Marco asserts).
There’s lots of good information in this book about why certain online businesses (in this case a website selling leads) have almost no profit limit, versus a traditional job where you physically can’t work more than a certain number of hours per day.
The Success Equation By Michael J. Mauboussin
The Success Equation delves into luck and its important role in success, alongside talent and hard work. Luck isn’t talked about very often because of the huge number of stories about hard work being the primary ingredient of success. If we look at success objectively it’s obvious we should pay some attention to luck.
The key takeaway I got from this book is that every activity, whether it’s poker, investing, releasing a song or playing basketball, has different amounts of skill and luck involved. Knowing where an activity falls on this “luck-skill continuum” can help you better plan for success and better forecast future results.
There are one or two denser chapters about statistics in this book which I skipped, but overall this is a great book.
The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen
The Fish That Ate the Whale is an entertaining and exciting read about Sam Zemurray, also known as Sam the Banana Man. Sam immigrated to the United States with not a cent to his name at the age of 14 or 15 from Russia, and died 70 years later with a $30 million fortune from his banana empire.
His life was one of adventure mixed with razor sharp business and political skills. Sam built his banana empire by taking risks, getting his hands dirty and applying common sense to business problems. The book also shows how powerful businesses like Sam’s were able to overthrow whole South American governments to ensure profits.
The Luck Factor By Richard Wiseman
The Luck Factor is an entertaining and short book by Professor Richard Wiseman about his research into luck. Wiseman carried out surveys and interviews with lucky and unlucky people to find out the core differences. His book explores the “four principles of luck” that resulted out of this research, and how you can apply them to your own life.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance By Angela Duckworth
Grit is about the value of determination and resilience in success. It gives you instructions for building grit in your own life through passion, practice, purpose and hope. The other great feature of this book is the huge amount of science and research Duckworth has delved into about grit and success. There’s a treasure trove of takeaways in this book which are useful to beginners and experts alike. You can also read our book summary of Grit here.
I hope you enjoyed the list! Let me know what else I can add in the comments section below.