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 bilbliophile in your life, this list has got you covered.
20 Books to Read in Your Lifetime
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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 this athlete’s 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.
10. 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 an 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 page in Thompson’s inimitable tongue. Expect drugs, drama, and for some strange Dr. Duke interludes.
11. 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, this 1962 criss-cross 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.
12. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
The Kiowa novelist and poet dazzles in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Abel, a veteran and Native American toeing the line between his cultural upbringing and the modern world that is 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.
13. 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—directed by Sean Penn—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
14. 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 once a while. Preferably one that doesn’t disappoint. 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. Good luck closing the last page not feeling in a better place than when you started.
15. 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 pairs really well with a five o’clock tipple.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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, CO, including their struggles and triumphs.
19. 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.
20. 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 covers war, love, treacherous seas, and enough profound lines to fill a tattoo wish list.