There are a dirth of recommendations out there. I almost hesitate to add to the massive burden of words “necessary” for every man to feel happy, healthy, and alive. Here’s the truth: you DO NOT need them. You don’t. You can get through life, as a man, living fully and deeply, without reading a single blessed word. Really, I believe that.
But, one of the ways we transmit our ways of being in this world is through culture, and for at least the last six thousand years, through written words. There is a value in being challenged by ideas and stories not our own, by concepts unfamiliar to us, and by experiences that push us to our limits. That’s what this list is all about.
The truth is this list is hardly comprehensive. It’s not an exhaustive body. We may issue that at some point—but not now. This is just a primer. So, if you see them—buy them. Don’t check these out from the library—OWN THEM (Click on the picture of the book to head straight to AMAZON). You will want to digest them many many times. That is, if you’re serious about your growth. Without further ado, the 5 Books Every Man should read.
1) Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
It is difficult to oversell the importance of this book. Here’s the thing, it was written almost 1800 years ago, by a man who’s life is unimaginably different than most of ours—he was a Roman Emporer. He didn’t set out to write a book for beta-bros in the 20th century working on their alpha game. He wrote a motivational journal for himself. And it was so fucking amazing they kept it. The advice and kick-ass wisdom in this small little handbook for life will give you reason to wake up in the morning. I use it as a devotional and have for several years now. Learn from the best. Let this mans soul invade your own and make it real. (One word of caution: edition and translation matters—buy the one linked to here, with the Raven on its cover!)
Along the same lines I would recommend: The Will to Power by Nietszche, Letters on Life by Rilke, and A Failure of Nerve by Friedman
2) The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida
Look, there’s a lot that’s come out before and since this book. There’s a lot to critique about this book, and its author. But—its still the book I’ve handed out to more men than any other. It’s written directly to the reader, “Today, take one step to do what you were born to do...” it’s aggressive, it uses phrases that men don’t use publicly, “your woman” and it drops the F-bomb a lot. He covers the polarity between the Masculine and Feminine, how to fuck like you mean it, and how to live your best life now. If you want an ass kicking towards purpose, this is your ticket. Read it.
Also check out: From Wild Man to Wise Man by Richard Rohr, King, Warrior, Magician Lover by Moore, How to Make Sh*t Happen by Sean Whalen, Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen and Iron John by Robert Bly
3) The Way of Men and Becoming Barbarian by Jack Donavan
I know I’ll take flack for this. I’ll have friends who will say there are better written books by less controversial figures. I get it. I hear you. And, you’re wrong. These twin books (different books but so complimentary they should be read together or even put into one volume), are written in a bare knuckle, no holds bare style. They aggressively target not only what it means to be a man today, but also how to be in relationship with other men, and how to relate to the dominant mono culture (The Empire of Nothing as Donavan refers to it) around us. While not all ideas within it are worth wrangling over, at least one idea within these pages should take you by storm and motivate you towards a shift.
4) The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram
I read this book on a four hour flight and found my world upside down as I disembarked. Truthfully this book holds the profound keys to connecting with self, spirit and the more than human world around you. It’s a challenging book linguistically. He’s writing as an academic. Some of the chapters I had to wrestle through. And it was worth it. He explores the nature of Nature, our obsession with words over presence, breath “magical, and becoming animal. This is a book that profoundly prompts us to become more alive.
If you like this kind of writing checking out Morris Berman's book Coming to Our Senses or the Reenchantment of the World
5) The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart compiled by Robert Bly and James Hillman
Poetry. For many men this is a dirty word. Fuck it. There are things we can see better out of the corner of our eye than head on. Poetry helps us do that. Get used to it brother. This book brings together many of the great poets (Neruda, Rilke, Oliver, Cummings) and puts them in relationship to the seasons of a mans life. It helps us see our place in this world. How many times in a dark hour did I pull this book out and laughed or wept accordingly? And honestly, the poem “Balls” is worth the price of the book.
So many amazing OTHER poets to recommend--really anything by Pablo Neruda or Rainer Maria Rilke, but I might also throw in the poetry of Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladensky.
Alright man, get these. It’ll start you and companion you on the journey!