From time to time I’m asked for book recommendations from friends, so I thought it would be useful to provide a list of some of the books, fiction and nonfiction, that have been important to me. Because it’s difficult to select only 50, I cheated by providing a related section for some of the books with additional works I enjoyed. I’ll preface the list by saying that this is by no means an all-inclusive list and it isn’t in any particular order, but the books to follow have been wildly influential in my own life.
1. The Sea Wolf, by Jack London
London’s Wolf Larsen embodies pure, nihilistic strength, admirably, frighteningly, and tragically wrapped together. It is a tale of the weak, wealthy, and idealistic against the masculine, working class, sociopathic.
Related: The Call of the Wild, White Fang
2. The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard, by Elmore Leonard
To satisfy the craving for some good short westerns, Elmore Leonard is the best guy for the job.
Related: Hombre, by Elmore Leonard
3. The Iliad, Homer
Because it is at the heart of classical and Latin mythos. The Greeks are not dead. their architecture, art, law, government, languages, mythology, literature, and philosophy are immortal.
Related: The Odyssey, by Homer and The Aeneid by Virgil
4. The Saga of the Volsungs
Many fantasy stories borrow from this Scandinavian folklore.
Related: The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
5. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
A reflection on simple living in natural surroundings. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and—to some degree—a manual for self-reliance.
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
Related: Civil Disobedience
6. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
This book is FUNDAMENTAL for establishing strong relationships with people and for engaging with the world in a positive manner. Not only do I recommend you to read this book, I recommend you to reread it annually. It will help you to not focus on yourself and to be genuinely interested in other people.
“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”
Related: #22 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
7. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
This book is a powerful account about War. But it is not your typical War story. The book is broken down into vignettes that tell different stories, many of which are deep truths that have to be pried out of the grit… What is a true war story and what is a war story that is true?
“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”
Related: What It Is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes
8. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Dr. Jordan Peterson
Dr. Jordan Peterson is a rising figure who advocates living with purpose and meaning. His first book written for the general public is a counter punch to the nihilistic trends permeating society.
Related: Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche & Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
9. Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
A powerful look at the disaffection of the American Male, Fight Club follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist struggling with insomnia. Inspired by his doctor’s exasperated remark that insomnia is not suffering, the protagonist finds relief by impersonating a seriously ill person in several support groups. Then he meets a mysterious man named Tyler Durden and establishes an underground fighting club as radical psychotherapy.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
10. Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford
Buford spent time embedded with London’s football hooligan’s, and learned some shocking truth about crowd violence and young people’s urge to fight.
“The crowd is not us. It never is.”
11. Martin Eden, by Jack London
Different from some of London’s more popular works, Martin Eden is semi-autobiographical about London’s struggle from the lowest class towards success and fame, and the subsequent disappointment once he reached his goal.
12. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
The original book of War… and business.
13. Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
A gripping story about Krakauer’s 1996 attempt to climb Everest, which became the deadliest expedition until very recently.
14. Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
2nd of 3 Krakauer books on this list, Into the Wild follows the true story of Christopher McCandless as he walks away from a suburban life to hitchhike and explore the country. While many people have strong opinions about McCandless, the deepest lesson of this story doesn’t materialize until the end.
Related: On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
15. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
A great adventure novel set in the days of Napoleon if you have the stamina to finish the tome. The Count of Monte Cristo is about revenge and is a fixture of western literature.
Related: The Three Musketeers
16. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
Originally published for adults, The Catcher in the Rye has become popular with teens for its themes of angst and alienation. While often humorous, the book is a sobering look at the struggles of maturation.
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
17. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Considered to be one of the most influential books to fuel the abolition movement, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass chronicles the life of the former slave and famous orator.
“The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.”
Related: Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington
18. Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison
This book consists of three short stories. All three are great, but if you only read one, read either Revenge or Legends of the Fall.
Related: See Here
19. The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard
Chronicling the adventures of Theodore Roosevelt after his presidency on an expedition to a South American river.
Related: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris
20. The Federalist Papers, by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, & John Jay
Its not good enough to just read the Constitution… Understanding why the framers established our government the way they did is just as important if you plan on advocating to change something.
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
Related: The Constitution
21. Intellectuals and Society, by Thomas Sowell
A look at why people who peddle in ideas are not held accountable when their ideas do not work and how society has been fooled time and time again by members of the intellegentsia.
“Many of what are called social problems are differences between the theories of intellectuals and the realities of the world—differences which many intellectuals interpret to mean that it is the real world that is wrong and needs changing.”
Related: Discrimination and Disparities, by Thomas Sowell
22. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
The title says it all. And the book delivers.
Related: How to Win Friends and Influence People
23. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
My personal favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. If you haven’t already read it in your highschool english class, I recommend it. It is about how the small seed of vain-glory can lead to a pursuit of power fueled by evil and atrocity.
“Lay on, Macduff”
Related: Macbeth (2015)
24. The Odyssey, by Homer
The epic sequel to The Iliad, The Odyssey chronicles Odysseus’ journey back home to his wife and kingdom in Ithaca after the Trojan War. It is the second oldest extant work of western literature.
“Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.”
Related: The Iliad, by Homer & The Aenied, by Virgil
25. MCDP 1: Warfighting
The fundamental doctrine of the US Marine Corps on which everything else is built. It is the Bible of the Marines. It describes the nature and principles of war, maneuver warfare, and has tremendous applicability in many aspects of your life.
26. The Bible
Whether you read it as a believer or from a secular perspective, it is an undeniable fact that the Bible has been profoundly influential to Western culture and was the originator to many of the ideas that have brought us to where we are today. If you are to read and understand literary allusion, the most cited work of all is the Bible.
27. The Perfect Day, by Ira Levin
A dystopian future where everyone is in their proper place and managed by a computer control system for efficiency. While the books in the related section are more popular, for the sake of having a fresh book that you may not have heard of, this one is on the list.
Related: A Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley & 1984, by George Orwell
28. Dune, by Frank Herbert
One of the best, if not the best, sci-fi novel ever written. Herbert built a complete universe beginning with this astro-political coming of age story involving Paul Atriedes against a whole empire.
Related: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune
29. On Killing, by LtCol Dave Grossman
A book based on S.L.A. Marshall’s studies from World War II, which proposed that contrary to popular perception, the majority of soldiers in war do not ever fire their weapons, because of an innate resistance to killing. Based on Marshall’s studies the military instituted training measures to break down this resistance and successfully raised soldiers’ firing rates to over 90 percent during the Vietnam War.
Related: On Combat
30. You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney
A great aid for guarding against your own biases. McRaney goes down the list of psychological biases and how your mind plays tricks on you. The first step to thinking logically and rationally is understanding your own human weakness.
31. The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
A novel that explores nationality and identity as well as love’s trancendence during the second world war.
“All I ever wanted was a world without maps.”
32. The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker
A great book for leaders who mistake being busy for being effective.
33. Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on it, by Ian Leslie
An effective primer on how to stay hungry for information and why it is so important.
34. Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes
A novelization of the author’s experiences as a Marine Lieutenant during Vietnam. A powerful book for junior officers serving in the infantry or preparing to serve in the infantry. I would also recommend this book to anyone that wants a raw look at the struggles of a leader.
35. What It Is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes
This is what really happened, with some commentary and wisdom throughout. Read after Matterhorn.
Related: The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
36. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Change Our Future, by Kevin Kelly
An interesting read from the founding executive editor of Wired magazine about where the future is headed based on observable trends.
37. The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game, by Sam Sheridan
A look at what contributes to a successful mental approach in professional fighting.
Related: A Fighter’s Heart, by Sam Sheridan
38. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris
Soldier. Conservationist. Police Chief. Statesman. Explorer. Rancher. Historian. A look at the life of one of the most interesting presidents leading up to his time in the oval office.
Related: Theodore Rex, Colonel Roosevelt, The River of Doubt
39. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
The novel, set in France and London, tells of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris and his release to life in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met; Lucie’s marriage and the collision between her beloved husband and the people who caused her father’s imprisonment; and Monsieur and Madame Defarge, sellers of wine in a poor suburb of Paris. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution.
40. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
My all time favorite novel from McCarthy, Blood Meridian is about pure evil with some deep underlying discussions on Violence, Theodicy and Gnosticism. On top of it all, Blood Meridian boasts one of the most feared villains in literature, the Judge.
“Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”
Related: No Country for Old Men, The Road
41. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
42. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
An exploration into the desecration of the soul when one lives only for pleasure and self-fulfillment.
43. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Exploring themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, and excess, The Great Gatsby is one of the greatest American novels ever written.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Related: Tender is the Night
44. Outer Dark, by Cormac McCarthy
Arguably one of McCarthy’s darkest novels and not for the faint of heart. It is a book about the dark road to nowhere taken by those with no moral compass.
“In a world darksome as this’n I believe a blind man ort to be better sighted than most.”
Related: Blood Meridian, The Road, No Country For Old Men
45. To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway
Not the most famous of Hemingway’s works, but probably my favorite. It chronicles the adventures of a man who will do anything and everything he can to take care of his family, putting the virtue of responsibility above all else.
“I don’t know who made the laws; But I know there ain’t no law that you got to go hungry.”
Related: The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls
46. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt
This book was important to me because it taught me not to take things at face value, and to remain skeptical of research fads. Incredibly interesting and an easy read.
“Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work, wheareas economics represents how it actually does work.”
Related: Gang Leader For a Day, By Sudhir Venkatesh
47. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
The voyage of Ernest Shackleton is the most notable during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration when disaster struck his ship, trapping it within an pack ice. His leadership through the bitter cold and ultimate rescue is a story worth hearing.
48. Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
The stoic emperor’s personal writings. It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended them to be published and the work has no official title, so “Meditations” is one of several titles commonly assigned to the collection.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Related: Enchiridion of Epictetus
49. Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer
3 of 3 for Krakauer; this is the powerful biography of Pat Tillman, the professional football player who quit his job to join the Army after 9/11. While Krakauer attempts to make a few political statements about the military, it is Tillman’s legacy of selflessness that really comes to the forefront.
“The sad end he met in Afghanistan was more accurately a function of his stubborn idealism–his insistence on trying to do the right thing. In which case it wasn’t a tragic flaw that brought Tillman down, but a tragic virtue.”
50. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
One part recounting of awful atrocities carried out by the Nazi’s. One part, how to find meaning in even the most horrible of circumstances.
Related: Night, by Ellie Weisel
Now I know I can’t include every great read, but what books are on your list? Let me know in a comment or message.