Our motto at Beardbrand is to Keep on Growing. And one of the best ways to do that is through reading, so we put together a list of 25 awesome books every man should read.
Why read? Research indicates that as little as 30-minutes of dedicated reading daily is enough to see some significant benefits.
Reading makes (and keeps) you sharp. In addition to the expanded vocabulary and world-knowledge, daily reading has been shown to decrease the rate of memory decline. It also makes you wittier and helps keep you alert.
Reading novels has been linked to increased empathy and higher emotional intelligence. That’s a boost for your career and relationships—and healthy relationships are instrumental to a fulfilling and happy life.
Last but not least, reading might just help you live longer. A 24-year study found that people who read books, opposed to only newspapers and magazines, were more likely to live longer. More research is needed, but there really isn’t any risk to reading—aside from paper cuts—and we would gladly suffer a few of those for a few more years of living.
We’ll be updating this list periodically, but these 25 hand-picked book recommendations, in no particular order, should keep you busy for a few years.
The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
If you only read one Russian author in your life, it should probably be Dostoevsky. And if you’re only going to read one Dostoevsky novel, it should undoubtedly be The Brothers Karamazov. It’s been called the greatest novel ever written, and Kurt Vonnegut said, “there is one other book, that can teach you everything you need to know about life… it’s The Brothers Karamazov.” It’s a dense read, so give yourself at least a month to get through it—that, and a handle of Russian vodka.
We, The Drowned - Carsten Jensen
“Everyone in our town has a story--but it's not the one he tells himself. Its author has a thousand eyes, a thousand ears, and five hundred pens that never stop scribbling.”
― Carsten Jensen, We, the Drowned
I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed, or ever will enjoy again, a novel as much as I enjoyed We, The Drowned. It’s a sea-faring epic that spans over 100 years and two generations of Danish sailors. Jensen delivers all the best of a tale during the age of sail without the mundane pomp and circumstance found in so many stories involving sailors, ships, and the sea.
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Few writers capture the human psyche as well as Steinbeck did, and it’s on full display in the sprawling epic that is East of Eden. The internal struggle of good versus evil plays out over the beautifully detailed Salinas Valley in California—though East of Eden is loaded with plenty of turn-of-the 20th century Americana, including southeastern chain gangs and the hobo spirit featured in Grapes of Wrath. School curriculums get it wrong by keeping Grapes of Wrath as the defacto Steinbeck novel. Grapes of Wrath is good (and worth reading), but East of Eden is a masterpiece.
The 4 Hour Workweek - Tim Ferriss
“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn't conspire against you, but it doesn't go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. "Someday" is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it's important to you and you want to do it "eventually," just do it and correct course along the way.”
― Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek
When I first picked up The 4-Hour Workweek, I had little interest in starting my own e-commerce business. I wasn’t even interested in cutting my work to 4 hours per week—that just didn’t sound realistic. I was just in a rut, feeling unhappy in my career and personal relationships. I felt stuck, with no straightforward ways to get out of the hole I was in. While The 4-Hour Workweek is packed full of step-by-step guides on selling products online and outsourcing nearly every aspect of your life, those weren’t the most important takeaways for me. Instead, Ferriss began to change how I thought about time—and how I was spending it doing very few things that I actually wanted to be doing. The 4-Hour Workweek put a crack in the walled-off box I was living in and allowed some light to shine through, which got me moving in a much more gratifying direction.
Open by Andre Agassi
“Now that I've won a slam, I know something very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn't feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn't last long as the bad. Not even close.”
― Andre Agassi, Open
Regardless if you’re a tennis fan, there is so much to glean from Andre Agassi’s autobiography—from overcoming heartbreaking failure and managing pressure in the most significant moments to doing things you don’t want to do and finding yourself in the process. I was surprised at how much I took away from this gem.
Grant - Ron Chernow
“Grant adopted unusual precautions, returning to the Willard Hotel twice daily for meals and staying indoors at night. When he set eyes on images of John Wilkes Booth, he immediately recognized the sinister horseman who had shadowed his path to the train station and knew that he himself had stood on the death list of intended victims.”
― Ron Chernow, Grant
Ulysses S. Grant spent most of his life being overlooked, underrated, and as a business failure—yet, he ended up one of the most important figures in American history. Grant finally gets his due in Ron Chernow’s tome of a biography, and there’s a lot to be learned from this kind of story.
Talking to Strangers - Malcolm Gladwell
“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy"
― Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know<
Malcolm Gladwell, the author behind Outliers and Blink, is a gem. In Talking to Strangers, Gladwell uses stories throughout history to break down why we are so often wrong about people. If you can, download the audiobook, which is produced more like a podcast than a book on tape.
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement - John Lewis
“Rioting is not a movement. It is not an act of civil disobedience. I think it is a mistake for people to consider disorganized action, mayhem, and attacks on other people and property as an extension of any kind of movement. It is not. It is simply an explosion of emotion. That's all. There is nothing constructive about it. It is destructive.”
― John Robert Lewis, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement
John Lewis was still a towering figure when he passed away in 2020 at the age of 80. He led an extraordinary life, and his memoir of the Civil Rights movement is a masterclass on leadership during tumultuous times.
Men Without Women - Haruki Murakami
“That’s right,” Kafuku said. “Whether you want to or not. But the place you return to is always slightly different from the place you left. That’s the rule. It can never be exactly the same.”
― Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women
Murakami’s Men Without Women features a collection of seven short stories that deal with what happens to men when they lose women. And well, whether it’s a girlfriend, wife, or your mother—we’ve all been there.
How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has stood the test of time for a reason. No man is an island, and with more people feeling isolated and alone in the 21st century, this book might be more critical than ever.
The Master Key System - Charles F. Haanel
“You can not entertain weak, harmful, negative thoughts ten hours a day and expect to bring about beautiful, strong and harmonious conditions by ten minutes of strong, positive, creative thought.”
― Charles F. Haanel, The Master Key System
It’s hard to imagine anyone in 1916 taking what is essentially a book about meditation and controlling the quality of your thoughts seriously. But, they did—and this might just be the granddaddy of self-improvement books. 100 years later, The Master Key System is still relevant.
A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
“I sat back in the corner with a heavy mug of dark beer and an opened glazed-paper package of pretzels and ate the pretzels for the salty flavor and the good way they made the beer taste and read about disaster.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
You could make a case for The Sun Also Rises, or For Whom The Bell Tolls if you’re picking one Hemingway novel, but I find A Farewell to Arms to be the most interesting story of the three. No novel has made me want to sit in the back of a tavern with a beer and pretzels while reading the news more than this.
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
“When you die it's the same as if everybody else did too.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
McCarthy is as gritty of a writer as they come (he also wrote Blood Meridian and No Country For Old Men). The Road is brutally simplistic in its detail and storytelling, and that’s how a post-apocalyptic novel should be—there’s no time for beauty when the world has ended and every second is a life-or-death decision.
Roots - Alex Haley
“The first time he had taken the massa to one of these "high-falutin' to-dos," as Bell called them, Kunta had been all but overwhelmed by conflicting emotions: awe, indignation, envy, contempt, fascination, revulsion—but most of all a deep loneliness and melancholy from which it took him almost a week to recover. He couldn't believe that such incredible wealth actually existed, that people really lived that way. It took him a long time, and a great many more parties, to realize that they didn't live that way, that it was all strangely unreal, a kind of beautiful dream the white folks were having, a lie they were telling themselves: that goodness can come from badness, that it's possible to be civilized with one another without treating as human beings those whose blood, sweat, and mother's milk made possible the life of privilege they led.”
― Alex Haley, Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Roots has been somewhat cast aside after some literary controversy surrounding plagiarism lawsuits and claims that Haley isn’t actually a descendent of Kunta Kinte. But regardless of fiction or nonfiction (Haley called it faction), Roots is too important of a story to bypass and one that is hard to put down once it’s started.
Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy
“It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready to take advantage of them.”
― Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
If there’s one U.S. president that was larger than life, it was Theodore Roosevelt. Morris captures Roosevelt’s gigantic personality incredibly well over the course of three entertaining biographies.
The War of Art - Steven Pressfield
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Whether you see yourself as a creative type or not, chances are, you’ve probably been putting off some form of creative work. Don’t worry, we all are. The War of Art is essential reading for anyone who wants to boost their creative output—which is all of us.
Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) - Jeff Tweedy
“I’ve heard people complain about my guitar when I play solo shows. “Why does he insist on playing that guitar? It sounds like it’s strung with rubber bands.” To which I say, Um . . . Shut the fuck up, get your own guitar and ring like a silver bell for all I care. I need a guitar with strings that don’t sound like a twenty-year-old who wakes up at five a.m. and has a venti iced Americano and is ready to seize the day! I need strings that sound like me, a doom-dabbling, fifty-year-old, borderline misanthrope, nap enthusiast.”
Some people are self-aware, and then there is Jeff Tweedy, who turns self-awareness up to 11. Regardless if you’re a Wilco fan, Tweedy is brutally honest in his portrayal in his autobiography, and his self-deprecating humor is incredibly entraining and surprisingly useful.
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The foundations of stoicism are laid out in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. It’s one of those books that you read a little bit of every day over the long run. It’s the kind of book where some of it doesn’t make sense, and then one day, it clicks.
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
“There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction...For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Lolita is equal parts grotesque, disgusting, beautifully written, controversial, misunderstood, and impactful. Lolita’s plot centers around Humbert Humbert, a handsome middle-aged European immigrant who obsesses over the 12-year-old American, Lolita—who he ultimately kidnaps and repeatedly sexually abuses. As vile and direct as the content is, it’s not a book that aims to persuade the reader in support of pedophilia, though Humbert Humbert definitely pleads his case. Instead, it dares you to empathize with a monster and examine how easily one can be overtaken by an obsession. Lolita is gut-wrenching, but the themes of manipulation and abuse are too important to not give this one a read.
Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
“This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty... what you will.”
― Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Tropic of Cancer reads like a series of anecdotes about Miller’s time in Paris during the 1920s. Miller writes with no filter. It’s
often primarily crude, vulgar, laced with profanity, and was banned in the United States until 1934. But, at times, it beautifully articulates the disillusionment of post-WW1 ex-pats (and anyone that’s just living an unsatisfying life). It’s not an easy read and will most likely leave you confused at points. It took me three different attempts before I got through it. Tropic of Cancer is the kind of book that a lot of people hate—there are no protagonists, and the main character (Miller) is a self-absorbed leech. But, if you happen to read it at the right moment in your life, it will punch you in the face and leave you speechless.
Man’s Search for Meaning - Victor E. Frankl
“To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.”
― Viktor Emil Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Published in 1946, just a year after the end of World War II, Frankl details his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps while examining psychological consistencies in the face of suffering. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl lays the foundation for logotherapy, which translates literally to therapy through meaning. It’s one of the most influential books in print to this day.
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five is one of those books that hang around on people’s “books I should read” lists for entirely too long. Read it, set it aside, and then read it again a year or two later.
The Artist’s Way - Julia Cameron
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano / act / paint / write a decent play?" Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don't.”
― Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
Put simply, The Artist’s Way made me realize how negative my inner voice was towards any work that I was doing—creative or not. There were things that I wanted to be doing but wasn’t taking the first step toward because I didn’t feel that I was “good enough.” No matter what we do, self-doubt will always rear its head, but Cameron’s book helped me learn how to manage my inner-critic effectively.
The Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday
“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”
The Obstacle is the Way was critical in helping me step back, re-evaluate, re-frame, and ultimately work through every challenging moment of my career. It’s a book I return to time and time again. The Obstacle is the Way leans heavily on Marcus Aurelius's writings and the foundations of stoicism, and has been crucial in helping me focus less on what is happening to me and more on how I respond to it.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values - Robert Pirsig
“In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
At one point in time, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a standard on philosophy curriculums. It hardly deals with motorcycle maintenance, though part of the story involves a motorcycle trip from Minnesota to California with Pirsig's son and a couple of friends. Pirsig bounces back and forth between writing about the trip and injecting long philosophical diatribes. Some find Pirsig to be arrogant, condescending, and insufferable, while others still swear by this book as a life-changer nearly 50 years later. If nothing else, it’s thought provoking. One way another, most everyone has an opinion on it, so it’s worth reading.
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Keep on Growing.