Books are transportive, eye-opening, life-affirming. Whether you’re jonesing for your next adventure or looking for a bit of inspiration, get all that and more from these glorious reads. They’re our top list of books every man should read in his lifetime.
With some classics and curveballs thrown in the mix, there’s something for every kind of reader. And if you’re looking for a great gift for the bibliophile in your life, this list has got you covered.
35 Books to Read in Your Lifetime
1. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
There’s good reason this 1955 non-fiction best-seller has been translated into 45 languages—we all have something to learn from it. A woman rents a cottage by the ocean on Captiva Island, Florida. She walks on the beach, picking up seashells (a metaphor for musing on life), and enjoys time away from busy everyday life as a mother of five, replacing it with sweeping up the dust from her cabin, connecting with nature, and ambling about. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it’ll change your view on everything, from work and women to the importance of solitude and hitting the pause button every once in a while.
2. Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening by Liz Clark
This 2018 memoir is an armchair traveler’s dream, nightmare, or a bit of both. In the autobiography, we follow Clark as she sets sail alone in 2006 from Santa Barbara, California, to the South Pacific. If you spent half of quarantine watching YouTube videos of people living fascinating, nomadic lives, do yourself a favor and pick this one up pronto.
3. Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad
It’s a miracle this page-turning 2009 memoir and New York Times best-seller hasn’t been turned into a movie. A few years back, Sean Penn was set to direct the film adaptation of the book, but it fell through. We think it’s a blessing in disguise, because no amount of cinematic glory could ever capture this unbelievable tale of a young boy surviving a mountainside plane crash interwoven with surfing stories, road trips, and a look at Ollestad’s troubled relationship with his father.
4. World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever
This posthumous travel guide released in spring of 2021 is already a New York Times No.1 best-seller, and with good reason. It’s funny, sharp, practical, and makes this pale blue dot seem like ours for the taking. Whether you’re seeking Bourdain’s thoughts on Tangier or where to stay in Toronto, this comprehensive book has it all, along with some stellar essays from Bourdain’s friends, brother, and co-workers about the man who made us all want to journey to parts unknown, be they around the corner or half-way across the globe.
5. Manhattan ’45 by Jan Morris
The world lost a legendary wordsmith when Morris died at 94, but you need only pick up this book that captures the golden age of New York City to feel her spirit guide you through the streets—from Harlem to Wall Street, up, up, up to the dazzling architecture of the buildings, and even for a tipple at the Manhattan Club. In a time when we all feel divorced from the vibrancy of our cities, it’s a quick read that roars a reaffirming hymn to metropolitan residents: That’s why I didn’t move to rural Michigan.
6. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson, 20th Anniversary Edition by Mitch Albom
When Albom’s college professor from nearly 20 years ago is diagnosed with ALS, he—an overworked sports writer, whose life is unraveling—is able to reconnect with him and learn the lessons of life and death that too many are afraid to teach or speak. If you’re feeling burdened by dense tomes as of late, this 1997 best-selling memoir can easily be devoured in a sitting or two.
7. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli
Mexican author Valeria Luisell shows her mighty prowess with pen in this 2017 non-fiction essay. It comprises 40 questions Luiselli asks undocumented, detained Latin American children in her role as a volunteer interpreter in federal immigration courts in New York City. As one Goodreads reviewer put it: “shattering and vital.”
8. Inner Ranges: An Anthology of Mountain Thoughts and Mountain People by Geoff Powter
If you’re all about being one with the mountains, it’s hard to outshine this collection of alpine stories that was the winner of the 2019 National Outdoor Book Award for Outdoor Literature, as well as the 2019 Banff Mountain Book Award for Climbing Literature. Fittingly, it covers a lot of ground, from essays on adventuring in the 21st century to adrenaline-filled sagas from life at great, glorious, and terrifying heights.
9. Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Speaking of rural Michigan, it has its merits too, especially when 16-year-old Margo Crane is your tour guide. She navigates readers through an action-packed river journey. With themes of factory pollution, abuse, and living off the land percolating throughout, the 2011 coming-of-age tale is one you won’t soon forget.
10. Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux
This spring 2021 release is Theroux at his fictive finest: descriptive, nuanced, sagacious, and just a touch unlikable for how damn good of a writer he is. The novel chronicles a champion surfer who accidentally kills a homeless man with his car while he’s inebriated. Surf culture, Hawaii, the road to renewal—there’s a whole lot to love in these 421 pages.
11. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
Okay, we’ll try not to fill this whole list with Theroux picks. This 1982 instant best-seller was shortlisted for the American Book Award, and it’s a novel you won’t be able to put down, even on your fifth read: The crazed and genius inventor Allie Fox relocates his family from America to the Honduras jungle in a story that may very well change how you look at the world. In 1986, Harrison Ford starred in the movie rendition of the novel, and it now makes for an especially timely read, or reread, as it’s an Apple TV series starring Theroux’s nephew, Justin Theroux.
12. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
This 2017 debut novel is ostensibly about a mother murdering her child, but it’s actually about the psychological torments that plague us all. With the story told from different perspectives, evocative descriptions of Idaho’s remote mountainsides, and thought-provoking symbolism, it’s easy to see why Ruskovich won the esteemed International Dublin Literary Award for Idaho.
13. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
If there’s ever been a hiking memoir to read, it’s this one. Hailed as one of the best books of the year by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and more after its 2012 release, Strayed tells a deeply moving, sometimes humorous, and ever-vivid account of her more than 1,000-mile hike along the PCT in an attempt to turn her life around—or at least find something like life again after her mom’s death, the dissolution of her marriage, and drug addiction in a few short years in her early- to mid-twenties.
14. Population: 485 : Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry
This 2001 Wisconsin memoir will both entice and dissuade you from taking the plunge. After a 10-year absence, Perry moves back to his rural Wisconsin hometown and joins the volunteer fire department where he fights fires and works as an EMT. In a hamlet of only 485 people, he takes calls of heartbreaking tragedy and crazier-than-fiction humor along the way, chased by plenty of philosophical waxing that never preaches, yet really makes you think.
15. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This historical novel shares the stories of four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family that eventually moves to Japan, tracing their evocative tales from 1910 to 1989. If you’ve already read this New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year, dive into her equally compelling Free Food for Millionaires, which revolves around a couple’s dissolution in New York City.
16. Cross Country: A 3,700-Mile Run to Explore Unseen America by Rickey Gates
What happens when a pro runner carves his way across the country with a high-quality camera? An excellent tribute to the people and places that make up our nation on the journey from South Carolina to San Francisco. The only downside? The last page has you wishing you had about 100 more pictures and stories to go.
17. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
First published in 1952, this National Book Award for fiction exposes the hardships of racism in our country through the story of an unnamed Black man in the 1920s and 1930s in both the South and in New York City. With visible inspiration from James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and T.S. Eliot (particularly The Waste Land ), it’s the equivalent of To Kill A Mockingbird that likely wasn’t taught in English class.
18. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson and illustrated by Ralph Steadman
This 1971 hit book got excellent movie treatment starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro in 1998, but nothing compares to the trip—of both the psychedelic and highway persuasion—captured on the pages in Thompson’s inimitable tongue. Expect drugs, drama, and some strange Dr. Duke interludes.
19. Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste by Bianca Bosker
Immerse yourself in the wild world of vino in this 2017 memoir-meets-nonfiction oeuvre in which the author quits her job in a quest to become a sommelier, taking us along for the ride into cellars, restaurants, competitions, and more with no shortage of quirky character explorations along the way. À votre santé!
20. Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
Quite possibly the best cross-country travelogue you’ll ever read—by one of America’s finest authors, no less—this 1962 novel takes you to cities and wastelands, striking vistas and craggy cliffs. Steinbeck evocatively captures himself, his beloved pup (Charley), and his country in a moment ripe with literal and figurative crossroads.
21. Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon
A masterful storyteller with Osage, English, and Irish roots, Least Heat-Moon puts you in the passenger seat for his oddball, poignant, and ever-entertaining zigzag across the country. With evocative photographs of the characters he meets throughout, he embodies the true spirit of van life before it was a social media trope, taking us to small towns in New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, and beyond. Published in 1982 following his ’78 meanderings in the wake of losing his job and becoming separated from his wife, it’ll make you yearn for the open road.
22. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
The Kiowa novelist and poet dazzles in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Abel, a Native American veteran toeing the line between his cultural upbringing and the modern world that’s just as relevant today as when it was first published in 1968. With breathtaking natural scenery and lyrical language throughout, you’ll definitely finish feeling inspired to wander through New Mexico, or retreat into a dingy dive in Los Angeles nursing a whiskey—or both.
23. The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo
In this 2019 memoir, the young Black author ventures away from the comfort of his New York City home to attempt to hike the 2,184.2 mile behemoth that is the Appalachian Trail. The self-proclaimed unlikely candidate for the challenge yields a remarkable book, not just for the beautiful depictions of the scenery, but the way it leaves you feeling eager to lace up your boots and experience the AT yourself.
24. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
How could we not put this non-fiction marvel on the list? It follows the real-life story of Christopher McCandless’ peregrinations to Alaska from his cushy upbringing in Virginia. If you’ve seen the 2007 film—and loved it—prepare to be truly amazed when you pick up the 1996 international best-seller. (And if you’ve already read this one half-a-dozen times, may we suggest adding Krakauer’s fine exploration of Mormon fundamentalists, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.)
25. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
This New York Times best-seller from 1995 is McBride’s moving memoir about the struggles and triumphs of being born to a Jewish mother and Black father in 1957. Though his mother converted to Christianity, McBride lived his life at the intersection of many cultures and crossroads, but what stands out most about this book is the reminder that we are all—above everything else—human.
26. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
Everyone needs a good self-help book. Weiner’s quest for the most joyful place on the planet—and its inhabitants’ secrets—more than delivers with science, laugh-out-loud personal anecdotes, and hard-won lessons woven in throughout. You’ll turn the last page feeling better than when you started.
27. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom
If only we knew when this book came out in 2018 how much we’d all be basking in solitude two short years later. Maybe we would have gone on a whirlwind solo tour of Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and New York City to prep our souls for what was to come. Rosenbloom’s adventures in unaccompanied peregrinations certainly gives us all a heck of a roadmap.
28. A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine by Jay McInerney
From the author of Bright Lights, Big City comes this delightful 2006 collection of essays on all things wine. It should go without saying this is best enjoyed with your favorite glass of vino.
29. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The 1997 winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction takes place in 1969 in Kerala, India, and centers around two fraternal twins grappling with the abhorrent “Love Laws” that decide who should be loved and how much. Heartbreaking at times, the book explores everything from forbidden love to societal unrest.
30. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Historical fiction keeps you enthralled from the first page until the last in this Pulitzer Prize-winning stunner about the antebellum South. With characters that leap off the page and language that punches you in the gut, allow this to be your gateway into the Trinity School- and Harvard-bred author.
31. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez
Márquez chronicles the shipwreck of a Colombian boat, and one man who survived 10 days alone at sea. Published in 1955, it’s one of the best sagas of man versus nature you’ll ever read. It’s certainly a non-fiction gem you’ll want to return to again and again.
32. Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson by Juan F. Thompson
If you’re reading our site, we’re going to go ahead and guess you’re a fan of the inimitable Hunter S. Thompson. In this revealing 2016 memoir, his son Juan shares his experience of growing up with the legendary author in Woody Creek, Colorado, including their struggles and triumphs.
33. Dalva by Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison has always held a special place on our bookshelf. This 1988 glimpse into the life of a young woman who leaves California to return home to the wide expanse of Nebraska for a new life with her long-lost son. This is poignant and powerful, jabbing and jeering.
34. The Aeneid by Virgil
“I sing of arms and a man…” begins arguably the most epic journey of all time as Aeneas sets sail to Rome. Translated by Robert Fagles, this classic text dates back to somewhere around 20 BC. The Latin epic poem’s 12 books cover war, love, treacherous seas, and enough profound lines to fill a tattoo wish list.
35. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
This 2006 “metaphysical mind-bender,” per The New Yorker acquaints you with a runaway teenage boy and an elderly man. Their stories intersect and, while their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, both of their stories will punch you in the gut in exactly the same way. Pathos, man.
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