Since starting the Art of Manliness, I’ve read a boatload of books about masculinity, manliness, and simply being a man. There are books out there on every aspect of the male experience from practical skills like carving a turkey and dressing well to sociological studies on what it means to be a man in history and modern society to more poetic examinations of the male experience. If you’re a fan of the Art of Manliness, then you’re probably interested in all of these different elements of being a man, so today I’d like to share a list of books that I’ve found useful and thought-provoking in my own life and journey in trying to understand what it means to be a man. Many of them can be a mixed bag both in terms of quality and content that jives with my own beliefs. But you’ll never grow as a man only reading things that flatter your pre-existing notions! So if you’re a man who’s looking to learn more about both the fun and serious sides of manliness, I hope this list can be a resource for books to pick up, study, and enjoy.
The Inner Man and Improving Relationships
The book that launched a thousand naked drumming circles. Iron John kick-started the mythopoetic men’s movement and inspired many of the people doing men’s only counseling and retreats. Poet Robert Bly uses an old Grimm’s fairytale to explain a man’s growth into the mature masculine.
You’re not going to find a lot of practical tips on improving yourself as a man, but Iron John certainly gives you a lot to think about. It’s a book you really need to read a couple times and meditate on.
Keen argues that men today need to rekindle their “fire in the belly” or what the ancient Greeks called thumos. It’s that manly spiritedness that drives men to do great deeds. I really like some of the questions Keen suggests using for personal evaluation as a man. Keen does argue that we need to redefine what it means to be a man and his idea of manliness is pretty granola, eco-conscience, feminist, etc. He also advocates the noble savage myth popular with many New Age gurus, arguing that we need to emulate our peaceful, goddess worshiping ancestors and give up our modern, violent ways. If that sort thing makes your blood boil, then this probably isn’t the book for you. But if it only mildly annoys you, then read it. There are some bits and pieces of insight that any man from any worldview can use.
Written by Jungian pyschologist Robert Moore and mythologist Douglas Gillette, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover looks at male development through the lens of Jungian archetypes. According to Moore, masculinity is made up of four archetypal male energies which serve different purposes. The authors argue that to become a complete man, a man must work to develop all four energies.
Moore describes the characteristics of the four archetypes and provides suggestions on how to develop them through meditation and ritual rites of passage. KWML has inspired many of the men’s groups existing today. Personally, I thought the very heavy Jungian-laden rhetoric made the book a bit of a slog to get through. I like Jung, but the way Moore presented it made it hard to get your mind around.
I had several AoM readers suggest this book to me, so I bought it and read it. David Deida concentrates on what he sees as the different polarities of men and women, and the way these polarities create attraction. There are a few interesting insights on becoming a man, but overall I found the book filled with pop-psychology fluff. The author is pretty popular in New Age/pick-up artist circles. While many see him as a spiritual guru for men, he’s admitted that he considers himself more of an entertainer than a teacher. Don’t know if I’d trust a guy with my spiritual development who thinks he’s just a jester.
Do your women friends tell you you’d be a great catch, yet you’re always dateless on Friday night? Do you feel like a doormat in your marriage and at work? According to Dr. Robert Glover, you have “Nice Guy Syndrome.” In this book, Dr. Glover explains why men with Nice Guy Syndrome have proliferated in the West during the past 30 years. Even better, he lays out specific, concrete things a man can do to get over his Nice Guy Syndrome.
I thought this was a great book for guys who feel like they’re getting pushed around in life. Many AoM readers have emailed me to say how much this book has helped them. But if things are going pretty well for you in life, then the book probably won’t do too much for you.
This is a quick read packed with some good insights on being a strong man for the woman in your life. The book is actually a story about a young man who’s recently married and is having marital problems. He visits Grandpa for a day hike and along the way he gets some sage advice on how to be a leader in a family.
I thought this book was okay. The authors choice of using a story to convey advice was creative, but it came off a little cheesy. I had to look past the schmaltz in order to take anything away from the book.
Men’s counselor and founder of BetterMen, Wayne Levine, helps men improve their relationships and become the men they want to be. In Hold on to Your NUTs (NUTs=Non-negotiable, unalterable, terms) Wayne gives men the tools they need to become confident and self-assured. What I particularly like about this book is how practical it is. Wayne has written posts for AoM before, and the comments are always very divided; some people like his kick-in-the-pants, no nonsense approach and some chafe at his tone. Personally, I’m a fan. Wayne’s not much for hand-holding and sitting around talking about your problems, but instead advocates taking action to improve your situation. You’ll find that same approach in this book. I also appreciate the fact that the book is useful for men who are in different places in life. So many of the relationship/inner man books are written for men who have big time problems. Even if you’re a well-adjusted adult man, you’ll find something useful in Hold on to Your NUTs.
The King Within: Accessing the King in the Male Psyche The Lover Within: Accessing the Lover in the Male Psyche The Magician Within: Accessing the Shaman in the Male Psyche The Warrior Within: Accessing the Knight in the Male Psyche
These four books are an expansion on the ideas found in King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. Each book goes into more depth about each archetype. If you’re a fan of Jungian psychology and enjoyed KWML, I definitely recommend these books. The books are pretty rare and can be expensive on Amazon.com, but I found copies for $5 a pop at my local used bookstore.
Philosophy and political science professor Waller Newell combed through the annals of Western thought to find literature on the subject of manhood. The book is broken up into sections like “The Chivalrous Man,” “The Gentleman,” and “The Statesman.” Within each section you’ll find excerpts from the likes of Shakespeare, Homer, and Locke on what it means to be a man. The result is a 560 page behemoth of an anthology.
I really like the idea behind What is a Man? Newell’s vision of encouraging manly virtue is right in line with what we’re doing here at the Art of Manliness. When I read the fantastic introduction in What is a Man? I had great expectations for the book. But I quickly found myself disappointed. First, many of the selections really don’t have anything to do with manliness or even about the virtue the selection was supposed to highlight. Also, most of the selections weren’t very stirring. My other criticism is that Newell could have done a better job editing his selections. Several of the selections go on and on and are pretty dense. Consequently, the main point that he’s trying to convey from the selection gets lost. It’s a book that ends up sitting on the shelf instead of being read.
Our upcoming book, Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the Seven Manly Virtues, is in some ways a response to What Is a Man? I tried to make up for the deficiencies I found in What is a Man? by selecting excerpts that were on point, packed with wisdom, and readable. The result is an anthology that’s inspiring, educational, and enjoyable to read. Can’t wait to share the book with you.
The Code of Man is Waller Newell’s follow-up to his first book What is a Man? In The Code of Man Newell argues that modern men have lost touch with values and virtues that have defined manliness for thousands of years. Consequently, many men (particularly young men) are lost, confused, and angry. Newell believes that the road to recovery is taken along the five paths to manliness: love, courage, pride, family, and country. Using Western writers and thinkers like Aristotle and Hemingway, among others, Newell attempts to guide men down the path to achieving a “manly heart.”
I really enjoyed The Code of Man, and I thought it was a much better book than What Is a Man? The great introduction makes checking out the book worthwhile in and of itself. Newell’s idea of honorable and virtuous manliness is much more clear in The Code of Man than in What Is a Man? I think if you enjoy the idea of manliness that we espouse on AoM, then you’ll enjoy this book. Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul
The best way to describe this bestselling book is that it’s the Christian version of Iron John. John Eldredge, leader of Ransomed Heart Ministries, criticizes how many modern Christian churches have made Christian men soft and wimpy. Wild at Heart is a call to Christian men to get in touch with their Wild Man. Eldredge uses Biblical figures like Jesus and John the Baptist as archetypal Wild Men that Christian men should emulate. He also uses the story of Adam and Eve as way to explore masculine development, much like Bly did with the Iron John myth in his book.
This is a favorite book among AoM readers. I can’t count the number of times readers have recommended this book to me. Overall, I thought it was a decent book that offered solid food for thought, but it doesn’t top my personal list of favorites. If you’re a Christian man who feels like there is a “wound” in your soul, this book will likely really resonate with you (although some Christians criticize the book because Eldredge’s theology does not align with their own). If you’re looking for practical advice and/or are not a theist, it won’t likely hit the sweet spot.
This is another book written by a Christian minister who focuses his ministry on men. Like Eldredge, Paul Coughlin laments the passivity and wussiness of Christian men. He also criticizes how modern Christianity has effemenized Christ into a character who pats children on the head and spends his days petting lambs.
Coughlin sort of picks up where Eldredge left off. While Eldredge does a good job explaining the spiritual angst of Christian men, Coughlin gives a concrete roadmap on how to improve things. The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry
In the Compleat Gentleman, author Brad Miner gives a thorough history of the idea of chivalry in the West. You’ll learn about the Arthurian legend that immortalized chivalry and about a sixteenth-century writer, Baldassare Castiglione, who advised Roman Emperors on the art of sprezzatura. Miner then goes on to set out three roles every man should seek to embody in order to be a “compleat” gentleman – warrior, lover, and monk, and explains how a modern man can fulfill these roles.
I really enjoyed Miner’s practical advice on becoming a gentleman and his section on sprezzatura. The section giving the history of a gentleman was sort of tedious and I had to sarge through it. I like history, I just didn’t like how it was presented in this book, but others have said they really enjoyed the history part. Like all things, it comes down to taste. He also sprinkles in some conservative political viewpoints, which can be a bit distracting for some.
Cultural and Sociological Studies of Manliness and Masculinity
Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield created quite a stir among academics with this book, which criticizes our gender-neutral society and defends manliness as a virtue. Mansfield uses literature, history, and science to define manliness as the ability to take on risks with confidence and gusto.
Mansfield makes some insightful points, but those points are few and far between. The book is poorly organized and written. Mansfield jumps all over the place, and his arguments can be hard to follow at times. In fact, for this very reason I stopped reading the book halfway through the first time I picked it up. I gave it another chance a few months later, and I had to force myself to finish it. There are whole chapters where it seems like he just jumbled a bunch of quotes from Nietzsche and Darwin together, put in the word “manliness,” and called it a day.
I had high hopes for Manliness, but it just fell flat for me.
Pyschologist Roy Baumeister flips the feminist argument that women have been oppressed and exploited on its head and argues that it’s actually the other way around: men are the ones that society exploits. Baumeister argues that throughout history men have been seen as more expendable than women; they’re ones who went to war, took the dirty jobs, and sacrificed their lives.
Baumeister uses studies from the growing fields of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology to explain why cultures have exploited men the way they have. Baumeister argues that much of male and female behavior is hardwired and that these differences should be used to complement each other instead of as fodder for the gender war.
The book is a pretty interesting read, but honestly, the article he wrote that became the book sums up his main points much more succinctly.