Without doubt, the poison coursing through the bloodstream of our education system is one of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as men. Our educational system is meant to do two things.
- Turn us into automatons for the corporate rat race, as seen in Office Space.
- Turn us into conformists that blend in with politically correct orthodoxy. That means hating ourselves as men and hating our countries.
Chattering heads often wonder why young men are withdrawing from society or, even worse, becoming mass shooters. There’s no simple answer, but the routine suppression of healthy masculine energy, the confusion of how to use it, the shame of using it, and the creeping hopelessness of our emerging politically correct, techno-dystopia has created lost souls trying to find twisted routes to glory. That plays a part.
A proper education for young men, to instill character and morals, discipline, a proper mind, and the skills to assert themselves in seeking a healthy glory, is more essential now than ever. It’s a subject I’ve written about before, but where should the actual coursework start?
Through long reflection and talking with other knowledgeable people, I’ve settled on a list of 10 books that can create a strong, self-confident masculine center. They cover all the basics of building character, mind, body, improving social skills, and making money.
Read these 10 books and implement them and you’ll probably be a good man.
The foundation of a masculine education should be the building of a resilient, ethical character. Most historians, from Herodotus onward, didn’t just recite facts. They used history as a way to instill lessons in character development and distinguish between right and wrong actions. This was just as important as what actually happened. Everybody knew this until the 20th century when, regrettably, the study of classics declined and then disappeared from the general curriculum, and the cramming of factoids replaced the emphasis on developing a deep and wise character.
To break away from the restrictions placed on us by our postmodern, techno dystopia, you must first rediscover this ancient wisdom and develop a well-grounded and resilient character. This is the foundation you will need to act wisely and responsibly, and to get through the setbacks that fortune inevitably deals you.
On Duties (Cicero)
The first book to read here would be Cicero’s On Duties. Nowhere have I found a more practical guide to everyday conduct. Like the Romans in general, Cicero wasn’t concerned with deep philosophical abstractions that were removed from ordinary human experience. He was concerned about doing, about acting every day to achieve something.
On Duties will show you how to behave every day to inculcate the kind of character you need to gain a good reputation, make allies, prevent bad acts from catching up with you, keep your mind clear of wicked thoughts that corrode the soul, and be confident enough in yourself to sustain setbacks.
There are obviously many translations, but Quintus Curtius’ is the most accessible and practical for modern readers. I reviewed that one here.
The Odyssey (Homer)
No book on character would be complete without Homer’s Odyssey. Nowhere in history has there been a better book on resilience, conquering vices and emotional thinking, and acting as a character of power. Odysseus is a model of masculinity which has been sadly lost in today’s world. No book better defines our times. It has never been more relevant.
When you read the Odyssey, You will realize that Odysseus’ journey isn’t dissimilar from your own. Thankfully, you’ll have the greatest guide you could ask for. My version is the Hackett translation.
When you have the foundations of a strong character, you need to mold a mind that overcomes emotional thinking, thinks in the long-term, and recognizes its own irrational nature and proneness to cognitive biases. The following two books will help you do that.
The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
For thousands of years, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has stood the test of time as the definitive book on strategic thinking. In it, you’ll see that the mind is the primary weapon you have, and the primary thing that you must attack when confronted by an enemy.
You will learn how to be calm and how to rile up your enemies. You’ll also learn when to fight, when not to fight, and how to maximize your chances of success when you accept battle. There are also chapters on the proper use of spies, which is immediately practical to everyday life.
I reviewed my own translation here. It’s the Barnes & Noble version, which you can actually get in the summer for $5.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Robert Cialdini)
This book is rightly considered the constitution of modern marketing. In Influence, Robert Cialdini decoded the methods that the most successful persuaders use to get prospects to say yes to their requests. It earned him the nickname “Godfather of Influence” in the process, as the book sold millions of copies.
In Influence, you’ll learn about the six universal principles of influence, which are the surest methods of getting people to say yes to any requests you make. Obviously, this is useful from an “offensive” perspective, when you’re trying to persuade someone to do something for you. Every entrepreneur needs to read this book.
However, even if you aren’t an active persuader, this book is useful as a “defensive” guide. By reading it, you’ll be capable of recognizing the patterns that people are using to try to influence you to agree with them. As such, this book is one that will help you cut out emotional decision-making and think more clearly. In fact, it was for this reason, and not for active influence attempts, that Robert Cialdini wrote the book in the first place.
In a “post-fact” world where persuasion is becoming more and more important, you’re going into the fray unarmed if you don’t read this.
It’s not enough to just think about stuff. You can have a good character and a clear mind, but you still won’t get respect or feel good – physically and emotionally – if you’re a fat slob. Being in good physical shape isn’t an option for an ideal life, it’s a necessity.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams and hucksters in the fitness space, so you need to be careful with what you recommend. Fortunately, there is a towering name.
The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Arnold’s is the name that defines fitness and bodybuilding. Thankfully, he wrote a big ass book on the subject. It covers all of the exercises you need to get in shape and build a better body. Chapters range from the general, compound exercises like squats and deadlifts to the specific exercises to sculpt and shape particular body parts. All of these exercises are well-illustrated with visual aids.
There is also extensive information on cutting fat, nutrition, and supplements, along with information on steroid use.
Yes, Arnold did take steroids, that doesn’t mean you have to. And yes, you’re not likely to get a physique like Arnold’s or Frank Zane’s if you aren’t a professional. Fortunately, you don’t have to go that far.
Arnold’s book has all the information you need to cut fat and get a defined, muscular physique that men will respect, women will love, and will make you feel better physically and mentally.
Social skills are falling by the wayside in our high-tech dystopia as individuals become more and more isolated. It shouldn’t be surprising that the rise of smartphones and “social” media has coincided with a decline in actual social skills. Awkwardness or bloviation is the norm, rather than the exception, these days.
Fortunately, that isn’t a high bar to clear. You don’t need to be a Casanova or Talleyrand. Just not being a doofus will go a long way.
The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene)
There is no better or more entertaining guide out there when it comes to social dynamics and the games that people play than Robert Greene’s dramatic debut book. In it, you’ll learn the moves to make to be more respected and admired. You’ll also learn what blunders you need to avoid at all costs.
Filled with historical examples and in-depth analyses of social interaction, The 48 Laws of Power is the most accessible guide on the subject to modern readers. It’s popular with celebrities for a reason. I return to it every year.
What Every Body is Saying (Joe Navarro)
One thing you’ll need to learn, which hopefully The 48 Laws of Power will help you with, is that socializing isn’t just about talking about yourself. That should be a minority. It’s more a game of observation than anything else. You need to figure out what people want to hear, what they react to, and so on. Most of all, you need to get out of your own head and into other people’s.
To make that point clearer, most communication isn’t done verbally. You need to observe body language. Joe Navarro’s Read ‘Em and Reap is great at this, but there’s a more in-depth guide still.
What Every Body is Saying is a well-illustrated book on observation and decoding body language. Here, an FBI agent who specialized in nonverbal behavior shows you the cues that people make in different states of mind, what that signals about their intent, and how you should respond.
When you decode body language, you’ll know what to say and what not to say without having to ask. You’ll know when to escalate on dates or the opportune moment when a prospect will be most receptive to your business proposal.
This is one of the most difficult difficult subjects to make concrete recommendations on, because there are so many different ways to do it (and a lot of scammers). How you make money will depend on things like your talent, energy level, the skills you acquire, the way you focus your attention, and so on. Unlike the human mind or the ways to build a better body, the ways to make money and invest are in constant flux. Nevertheless, some things will remain true. These two books are of that variety.
The Clash of Cultures (John Bogle)
Making money is one thing, keeping and growing what you have is something else. Plenty of people can make money, but if you can’t keep what you make and grow it, you’ll be forced to work at 70. That’s a nightmare scenario, isn’t it? This means you need to invest your money and not get caught up in manias that will have you losing your shirt.
The Clash of Cultures is an investment book recommended by Warren Buffett in one of his letters to his shareholders. John Bogle is another well-known name in the investment world, as he’s basically the pioneer of the modern index fund.
In Clash of Cultures, Bogle outlines the difference between productive, long-term investing and speculation, tells you how to avoid manic, speculative waves that work against you, and offers strategies to keep your money growing. They might not be the flashiest ones, he says, but the “number of worse strategies is infinite.”
Sometimes, not having a horrible strategy is enough on its own.
Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits (Phillip A. Fisher)
This is another on Warren Buffett’s must-read list. It first came out in the late 50’s, so it runs the risk of being a little outdated, but there is a revised edition that came out in 2003. The important things remain true, however. Investors need to evaluate more than a company’s finances. Rather, they also need to appraise a company’s management and business practices, which are even more important than financial statements.
This philosophy has been picked up by Buffett, who always does these things before making any investment. The results speak for themselves.
This is important. Our high-tech dystopia is too caught up in numbers and data, becoming less human by the hour. But we’re still the same human beings making the same irrational decisions. Understand this when you invest or you’re doomed. Good numbers might last for a quarter. Management personnel and their individual quirks last a lot longer.
Finally, you should read a good biography, one that gives an example of what a self-fulfilled, complete man looks like, so that you can have an example to reach after. There’s only one that comes to my mind instantly.
Caesar: Life of a Colossus (Adrian Goldsworthy)
Of course, I’ve written about this one a lot. I still stand by it. This was the best biography I ever read. It paints a complete picture of Julius Caesar and shows the reader how he was arguably the most talented man in history, and the most well-rounded with his talent.
You’ll see how he rose from obscurity to become the most successful man that Rome produced. You’ll also take heed to avoid the fatal mistake that did him in.
It’s a long book. The time will be well-spent.
There you go. There’s my list of the 10 most important books for men to read. No two people in the world would make the same list, but I think you’ll agree in principle with my particular choices. Feel free to respond with your own.
Of course, there are times when books alone won’t be enough for self-improvement. We don’t talk about the mental health of men in society, even though the suicide rate for men is four times higher than women. If you’re dealing with anger, depression, or any other mental health issue, you need to swallow your pride and speak with a professional. You can connect with licensed professionals through my partners at BetterHelp from the convenience of your home.