Most “great books every man should read” lists are too vague. It’s hard to say what makes a book “great.” You know what? I think we can all agree on some of the classics, the books that everyone should read before they die. A little Faulkner and Twain, a little Tolstoy and Melville, a few Homer epic poems, and you’re done. You know what to do. There are some men who have seen some things and learned about life by the time they’re 40. They know that they need more than Moby-Dick on their shelves to show that they’re interesting.
You should read these 40 books (or read them again) when you’re over the age of 40. Then, place them on your shelf for everyone to see. There is no reason not to trust us. Also, check out The Amazing Secrets of Speed Reading if you want to get through this list before you turn 50.
The Fight, by Norman Mailer
Norm Mailer wrote about the “Rumble in the Jungle,” which was a heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1975. This account has more drama than anything Hollywood has given us. Sports writing has never been better. “How to Find Your True Purpose in Life” by David Halberstam is a great book for guys to read right now.
Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
When talking about fights, this is what I mean. This book by Chuck Palahniuk is a quick read, but it will make you think a lot about what’s important in your life. Take a sentence like this: “May I never be done. May I never be happy. May I never be good enough.” Even if you aren’t part of a secret fight club, that line will still shock you to the core. If you want to get better at being fit, check out The Single Best Way to Stay Fit for Life.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
Among the things Dave Eggers talks about in his memoir are being young and hopeful, but it also talks about how to deal with the terrible losses that come without warning and learn to accept responsibility. Most people know that their parents are going to die someday, and it’s going to be very sad. Every man should read this book because it will help you through it in a way that no “how to” guide to grieving and loss could. In case you want to learn more about getting older, check out these 40 Life-Changing Habits to Do After You Turn 40.
God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215, by David Levering Lewis
The title makes it sound like it’s going to be a dry history book, but this book isn’t. In this book, you learn about how the Christian and Islamic worlds rose at the same time over the course of five centuries. They were often at odds with each other, though. To understand the religious intolerance that still exists today, anyone who wants to learn about it should read this book! Here are the 28 myths that have stayed true in American history:
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
You should read this book by Wallace Stegner if you’re in a long-term relationship or if you spend most of your time with other couples. This is a great way to remember that marriage is a long process, not a short one. For more on that, check out The 7 Ways to Make Your Marriage Last Forever for more ideas.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
A book for kids, sure. But we think every man should read this book. As an adult, read it again and you’ll see things you didn’t know were there. Is this a book about how all government is brutality and betrayal, and even if you are a good person, you won’t be able to save yourself. Even if you are a good person, you might be able to survive, but at a terrible price. You tell us what to do.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In The Great Gatsby, the symbolism can be very different based on when you read it. When you’re in your 20s, it’s all about the symbols and how the American dream is broken down. But if you read it again when you’re 40, you might be able to relate to Gatsby’s desire on a much more personal level. To see how it speaks to you now, read this book again. 37 Movies Every Man Over 40 Should Know:
Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose
During World War II, Easy Company was a parachute infantry company. This story about the men of Easy Company will make you cry. A lot of men are in this movie. They bond and jump out of planes to kill Hitler. Do you really need more?
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
It’s the tallest mountain in literature. You don’t finish it because it’s fun, you do it because it’s hard. The book has 1,079 pages! There are also a lot of footnotes, but most of them. I tried, and I’m going to keep trying because I’ll eventually get through this bad boy. Putting this on your bookshelf is a way to say that.
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, by Peter Watson
A look at how the human mind works and how we came up with everything from the written word to the wheel. Every man should read this book because it could help you come up with a life-changing idea of your own. If you need a mental pick-me-up, check out the 70 Genius Tricks to Make You Happy Right Away.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
A truly great science fiction book that doesn’t even feel like science fiction at all. Global warming and an energy crisis make the world a bad place in 2044, so people spend their time in a fake, virtual world instead. It sounds familiar. Before the movie by Steven Spielberg comes out this year, read this. It’s a good idea. I also want to talk about dystopian futures. Read The Single Best Way You Can Help Save the World.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White
It would be easy for us to go on and on about how important this book is now, especially in an online world where grammar is a constant death sentence. But then we remembered that one of the most important lessons from Strunk and White is to cut out words that aren’t necessary. The book is good, so we’ll just say that:
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, by Studs Terkel
He is one of the best historians in the United States. Studs Terkel talked to 100 men and women about what they did and how it made them feel. Even if you don’t want to be a prostitute or a waitress or a gravedigger, reading about their lives is interesting. It will make you think about your job and how it reflects who you are. It’s also good if you’re looking for a boost in your career. Here are six ways to turn your current job into the one you want.
Any Peanuts compendium, by Charles Schulz
If you think Charlie Brown and his “friends” are only for kids, you’re being a liar. These stories about being alone, failing, and never giving up even when there is no evidence to back them up just get more true with time. “After you grow up, all your problems will be gone,” Charlie says in his defense. You’ll laugh more than you have since you were a child. You can also check out 20 Crazy Facts That Will Make You Laugh.
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
There are two ways to read this book by Jack London: first, you can read it at any time. During your childhood, a book written from the point of view of a dog just sounds so cool. As a 40-year-old, when a book is written from the point of view of a dog who goes through unimaginable hardships and keeps going, it will be a surprise source of inspiration.