Shelf Life
By Gear Patrol
on 2.4.13

Selecting the 100 best books for men requires some audacity — but so does hitting a good tee shot or giving a toast, and we like those things fine. We figured the best way to do an honest job of it was to imagine ourselves as audience members: What do we want to read? The answer we discovered, after some hemming and hawing, was simply something we’ll enjoy.

So that’s what we did. Our 100 selections are our all-time favorites — albeit considered in the light of how much they changed our lives, and might change yours — and each of the six “auditors” had a general (but not universal) slant. Our car editor loved motorcycle manuals and top-tier action novels. Our watch and diver fanatic loved tales of true survival. One co-founder was into age-of-thought-shifting sci-fi. I had a definite classics fetish.

Ultimately, we realized that each of our individual favorites made up an extremely wide range of suggestions. And really, on a very large scale, that’s what a library is. Sure, we have an immense amount of room to go, and some incredible literature has been missed. But we’ve also hit at least a small corner of what most might consider the “core readings”; and, sticking to our previously mentioned “read what you like” rule, there have to be at least a few you’ll truly enjoy.

Click to read the entire list »

Best Fiction

Best Nonfiction

Best Short Fiction

Best Poetry/Theater

Best Philosophy/Essay

Best Memoir/Biography

Fiction

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” – Stephen King
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The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas – Perhaps the best revenge novel ever written. If you’re gonna do it, do it in style. Fantastic storytelling and adventure that makes you want to be Edmond Dantès, at least in the latter half of the book. $24

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Childhoods’ End

by Arthur C. Clarke – A peaceful invasion — perpetrated by unknown Aliens who prefer to rule in silence and seclusion, triggers a golden age for humanity. But when the demand to know our saviours reaches a boiling point, man’s ability to handle the truth is put to the test. $8

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The Screwtape Letters

by C.S. Lewis – The devil and his minion, hell-bent on securing a man’s eternal damnation. As entertaining as it is disturbing. $10

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Blood Meridian

by Cormac McCarthy – McCarthy’s masterpiece, a dark western that causes a thoughtful man to consider Manifest Destiny’s implications. $10

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Johnny Got His Gun

by Dalton Trumbo – You don’t have to be for or against war to be hit hard by this book. A horribly wounded soldier lays in a hospital room, unable to speak or see. What takes place after will make you think… hard. $11

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White Noise

by Don DeLillo – A professor of Hitler Studies. An airborne toxic event. Drug addition. A weird and funny meditation on media saturation and consumerism by an author who’s been called the “chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction”. $11

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The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway’s first and finest novel. It’s a roman a clef about post-WWI expats in Paris, bullfighting in Spain and women — with a cameo by the hefty Count Mippipopolous, a Greek who really likes his Champagne. $10

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When All the World Was Young

by Ferrol Sams – Sams’ final novel in the Peter Osborne Jr. trilogy of Americana is arguably his best. Set in 1942, the book follows Osborne as he disembarks the safety net of medical school in rural Georgia to enlist in the military — heeding the call of Uncle Sam and his own soul and contemplating the outcome of the World War. It’s like an epic story of wisdom and wit handed down by your grandfather over a campfire. $12

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Dune

by Frank Herbert – Major accolades like being the best selling science fiction novel of all time, a Hugo Award winner and the inaugural Nebula award winner for best novel speak to the impact of Dune in hindsight. But it wasn’t an easy sell initially. A little over a decade before Star Wars, Herbert created an immersive fictional world that was still encumbered by serious real-world struggles surrounding limited resources, classicism and oppression. Nearly 50 years later, its core themes seem more relevant than ever in world occupied by global terrorism and the squabble over fossil fuels. $12

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The Dark Knight Returns

by Frank Miller – The quintessential graphic novel. Critically acclaimed and the fuel behind Nolan’s version (together with Miller’s Batman: Year One). Wanna see a pissed and potent aging Bruce Wayne via some of the most original comic book art ever done? Not just well-drawn, but well-written. $11

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The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Dostoevsky’s last; a philosophical exploration of ethics, God, and free will. $12

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The Quiet American

by Graham Greene – The beginnings of the Vietnam War, told from a very different perspective. $9

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The Call of The Wild

by Jack London – It’s a story that will pull at the heartstrings of any dog lover. London captures Buck’s life beautifully, taking him from California to the brutal Alaskan wilderness. Survival, nature, a man’s best friend and a dog’s devotion. What else is there? $9

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Matterhorn

by Karl Marlantes – A novel about the horrors, humanity and depravity of the Vietnam War. Written by a soldier with a rawness and reality that’s inescapable. Not a feelgood book, by any means; it makes you want to salute anyone who’s gone through it. $11

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The Man In The High Castle

by Philip K. Dick – The U.S. loses WWII and Germany and Japan co-rule in the States. Quite possibly one of the best science fiction novels ever written. $11

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Solo Faces

by James Salter – Perhaps the best novel ever written about big wall climbing, it also is a quietly meditative study of a man’s obsession. $11

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Acts of Faith

by Philip Caputo – The moral dilemmas of aid work and mercenary warfare in our complex world, told unflinchingly and beautifully. $15

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Moonraker

by Ian Fleming – All 007 novels could make this list, but Moonraker is possibly Fleming’s finest work, with requisite scary Cold War menace. $8

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain – A damning indictment of the Antebellum South; as if that weren’t enough, Twain sets the humorous and moral foundations for all of American literature. Read it. $3

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The Return of the Native

by Thomas Hardy – The classic novel that takes place on the austere Egdon Heath. Love triangles, bad decisions, chance and destiny — plus some of the best narrative you’ll ever read. $9

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The Hunt for Red October

by Tom Clancy – How a military/intelligence thriller should be written. This is one Tom Clancy novel that makes even the fantastic movie fall short. Three words. Jack Ryan rocks. $10

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Less Than Zero

by Bret Easton Ellis – A raw, vicious and thoroughly damning take on the themes of confusion, angst and alienation breached by adolescent curriculum staples such as The Catcher In The Rye. Like his more popular work American Psycho, Ellis’s twisted mind is not for the faint of heart — but like a wake up call at some obscene hour, it’s worth the discomfort if sleeping through life is your problem. $11

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The Foundation Trilogy

by Isaac Asimov – George Santayana said “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. But Asimov asks, if “Big Data” could provide an accurate picture of what’s to come, should we surrender our will and blindly follow the equation? $20

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Franny and Zooey

by J.D. Salinger – No family or individual is perfect, and the youngest members of Salinger’s Glass Family are no exception. $11

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The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

by J.R.R Tolkien – Don’t let Peter Jackson’s films lull you into skipping the books. They define a genre like Guy Fieri defines douchebags. Plus, you’ll finally get those jokes murmured by your IT staff. $21

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Snow Crash

by Neil Stephenson – Buzzfeed and 4chan seem like the pinnacle of digital schizophrenia, but Stephenson thinks we’re just getting started. Even if those the dreams of VR and Power Gloves promised by the 80s were a few decades too early. $10

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Ender’s Game

by Orson Scott Card – The fate of the world rests in the hands of genius children. Some are trained since kindergarten in all things war, while others manipulate public sentiment and politics through the anonymity of the web. No wonder Mark Zuckerberg lists it as one of his two favorite books on his Facebook profile. $7

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The Once and Future King

by T.H. White – We all know the tale of King Arthur, but no riff on the story captures the murky nature of justice and power quite like T.H. White’s fantasy — written under the shadow of World War II. $17

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The Bonfire of the Vanities

by Tom Wolfe – Modern fiction can’t resist the hypocrisy of New York City in the 1980′s, but Wolfe’s first and most famous novel will always get the credit for telling it best. $11

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

by Hunter S. Thompson – The American dream, diagnosed and exposed — explored amid the raucous adventures of a man who needed some diagnosing himself. $10

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A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving – One of the funniest, most heartwarming and miraculous tales of childhood and the things that shape who we become. $8

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The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway – A triumph of Hemingway’s later years. Never, ever give up. $14

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A Time to Kill

by John GrishamThe Firm and Pelican Brief were the popular culture breadwinners, but in the end A Time to Kill was the searing story of triumph over racism that sealed Grisham as one of the consistently best writers of modern popular fiction. $10

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The Great Train Robbery

by Michael Chrichton – Trains and high theft, all set in the steely fervor of the English Industrial Revolution. Many of Chrichton’s books deserve a spot in modern fiction, but this is a true stand out. $10

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High Fidelity

by Nick Hornby – Two love stories: man and woman, and man and music through the setting of a record shop and narrative infused with Hornby’s undeniably hilarious British humor. $11

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Watership Down

by Richard Adams – Few books have put together a saga of courage quite like Watership Down. Heroism, adventure, and exile. It’s all there. $11

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A Soldier of the Great War

by Mark Helprin – An epic novel that sweeps across an entire century and a hero’s entire life. $8

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The Sheltering Sky

by Paul Bowles – A cautionary tale about traveling outside your comfort zone. $10

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The Rider

by Tim Krabbe – The best cycling novel ever written, and one we need now more than ever to recapture what’s been lost in this classic sport. $11

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U.S.A.

by John Dos Passos – Dos Passos, a friend and contemporary of Hemingway, wrote this sweeping and experimental three-part novel about early 20th century America. $26

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The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler – The quintessential hardboiled detective novel. $10

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The Dharma Bums

by Jack Kerouac – Kerouac’s better novel, for the “failed to launch” generation. A meandering reflection on zen and the meaning of life that gives some perspective on what’s truly important. $10

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The Postman Always Rings Twice

by James Caan – A crime novel with lots of sex and violence — try to figure out where the “Postman” comes in. $10

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Deliverance

by James Dickey – A guy trip, gone WAY wrong. $10

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Slaughterhouse Five

by Kurt Vonnegut – WWII satire, masquerading as science fiction. The oft-repeated “So it goes” suggests a bland acceptance of atrocity, but Vonnegut’s cautionary tale leaves the reader with the realization that these tragedies have an impact both on individuals and societies. $10

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The Naked and the Dead

by Norman Mailer – Antecedent to Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Band of Brothers. $13

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Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison – Surrealist account of being black in America — classic anti-hero palimpsest of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. $11

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All the King’s Men

by Robert Penn Warren – A look at the consequences of cause and effect and the journey from idealist to corrupt “realist”. Insight for considering our current political process and those involved. $11

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The Right Stuff

by Tom Wolfe – A classic of the New Journalism style and the finest tale of heroism and manly derring-do ever told. $6

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The Killer Angels

by Michael Shaara – Shaara does the men of Gettysburg justice. Bravery, slaughter and the human faces of one of our nation’s bloodiest battles. $8

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Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov – The dark edge of forbidden temptation — at least see what all the fuss is about. $11

Best Fiction Books | Best Nonfiction Books | Best Short Fiction | Best Poetry/Theater | Best Essay/Philosophy | Best Memoir/Biography
Why I Read

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In sixth grade I was tapped by teachers to receive an award for excellence in studentship. As reward, I was trucked down to the local newspaper and told to bring along a prop of one of my favorite activities. I brought books. Books and books and books – a stack that rose higher than my pre-pubescent, chubby face when I held them in front of me. And that’s just how my image appeared in the paper. When asked why I liked to read, I replied, “reading takes me to a different place, away from where I actually am.” Needless to say, the article did not improve my social status at school.

Today I still read, transporting myself from a cluttered closet New York City apartment; sometimes it’s to Poe’s House of Usher, where a demented man’s quivering laughter echoes the halls, and sometimes it’s to any of a hundred different humorous, terrifying, mysterious locales. Currently, I’m huddled in another messy room; this one is Ignatius J. Reilly’s, in a run-down ghetto street of Nawleans (courtesy of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces). The weather is quite nicer here than in the Big Apple.

I can be slightly more articulate today as to how each book “takes me to a different place”, but the recorded statement from my youth remains pretty wise. The writer in me squirms every time I notice a turn of phrase or scene that crushes my very best prose like an ant underfoot, easily; the editor in me studies, awed, every intense change of tense. On the whole, I strive to withdraw every ounce of knowledge I can find in a great writer’s prose. I relish, too, a relaxing hour of enjoyment where I can still lose myself in a universe that, for the moment, doesn’t include me.

Great books are being read less and less by men, and that’s a shame. Literature is not just an escape from the everyday: it’s a lens that projects foreign ideas onto ourselves. A great book informs, invokes thought and changes the way we view our day. It can be shared; and it can reveal things about the self that were previously hidden in murky unthought. In fact, it’s hard to find a more effective form of being taught by learned, well-educated or inspiring people — barring TED talks and a quiet chat with your old man. Lucky for you, the masses of incredible, controversial and even dubious writers have left behind their legacy. It’s an arsenal that we’re foolish to ignore.

The key to it all, from what I can figure, is reading what you enjoy and taking what you can from characters and authors who demonstrate, in one way or another, what you want to be (or those who are your foil, making major mistakes that you want to steer clear of). You no longer have to go to class and report on reading assignments — unpleasant experiences are no longer being forced upon you (by yourself or that arrogant bastard who gave you a C-). Reading can be an entirely personal experience; no more unsettling grades for you, Mr. Sparknotes.

Another problem, and one just as daunting, is finding a truly great book in a literal (ahem) galaxy of impressive bindings. Try as you might, Brontë or Shakespeare or Hemingway may not even work for you, and that’s not as mortal a sin as some literary prick might tell you. The importance is understanding why, and learning — always learning — from what you love and what you utterly don’t. Don’t! Shout to the rooftops why Poe is preposterous. Spur healthy debate. Bolster your own arguments, back them up with first-hand evidence (nothing worse than a hater who hasn’t actually read) — yet still, don’t be afraid to change your mind. Most of the greats didn’t produce one hit wonders.

So what do I do? I find the author who makes me smile with a turn of phrase, or a clever dialogue moment, or a plot twist that I truly never saw coming. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t guide you with a stern hand toward Roald Dahl for some of the juiciest turns-in-tale ever written, which give me a thrill on my 10th read just as much as they did my first time around.) The author created that moment for me, the treasured reader, to experience. He or she fought spurts of despair, dug deep within his or her own life and experiences, re-wrote and revised, cursed unhealthily and did it all again — just to unearth that group of markings on a page. And once you find yourself there, truly appreciating a person that you’ve never met, in a fictional or non-fictional setting that exists only on the page in front of you, that little tumble of text can and will change your life, whether in hardly noticeable grins, or thought-provoking miles of introspective growth. Turn the page.

Chris Wright

Nonfiction

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” – Winston Churchill
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The Wealth of Nations

by Adam Smith – One of the bibles of economics, based on the Industrial Revolution. Extols the virtues of a free-market economy; makes you wonder what the heck we’re doing so wrong now. $15

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Kill or Get Killed

by Col. Rex Applegate – The classic self-defense and mob control manual for military and law enforcement. You think you’re tough? Think again. $26

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Young Men and Fire

by Norman MacLean – The bravery of an unsung profession; this is a tale of natural disaster, adventure and male camaraderie. $11

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How to Win Friends and Influence People

by Dale Carnegie, Jr. – The quintessential guide on how to be popular in business, friendship and life. Drop the smartphone and get yourself some serious social skills via this classic. $10

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Proficient Motorcycling

by David L. Hough – The perfect guide on how to ride motorcycles and ride safely. It’ll change the way you ride as well as the way you think while you’re on the bike. $29

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Eat To Live

by Dr. Joel Fuhrman – Turns America’s nutritional viewpoint on its head. You don’t have to go vegan to appreciate Furhman’s thoroughness on high nutrition per calorie. Revolutionary thinking for the healthy man. $10

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Unbroken

by Laura Hillenbrand – The remarkable story of an incredible man (Louis Zamperini) who went from rebel to Olympic hopeful to WWII bombardier, only to be tortured to near death. His story of survival and redemption is nothing short of astounding. $17

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Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

by Peter Paret – A popular history textbook that makes for some seriously addictive reading. Military history, politics and social impact over the span of five centuries. $28

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What Color Is Your Parachute?

by Richard Nelson Bolles – The ultimate career guide. Vocation over occupation is the name of the game. Bolles is the master of making you rethink what you’re doing, and he goes deep, which is exactly what you need to break from your cubicle of pain. $13

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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

by Edward Gibbons – He’s credited as being the first modern historian of ancient Rome. The book traces the history of the Roman Empire (and Western civilization as a whole) from the late first century A.D to the fall of the Byzantine Empire. $10

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A Brief History of Time

by Stephen Hawking – Hawking’s goals are as modest as can be — explain the history of the universe all the way back to the beginning of time, without assuming readers are universally stupid. $12

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Band of Brothers

by Stephen Ambrose – Inspiration from the very mortal men of the 101st Airborne division, who fought bravely during D-Day, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. $11

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War

by Sebastian Junger – Nothing is more riveting or quite as unbelievable as war. Junger captures the reality of war in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley with his empathetic and soaring writing. $8

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The Endurance

by Caroline Alexander – The quintessential survival story that is about so much more: bravery, leadership, and never giving up. $10

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Into the Wild

by Jon Krakauer – The perils of the “living off the land” fantasy so many of us have. $13

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The Snow Leopard

by Peter Mathiessen – A gorgeously told tale of the search for an elusive Himalayan creature, and for inner peace. $9

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Shadow Divers

by Robert Kurson – The story of the discovery of a German U-boat wreck off the coast of America by two seemingly incompatible divers and how they learned to become friends in the process. $11

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The Perfect Storm

by Sebastian Junger – The book that launched a thousand Discovery Channel shows is still a classic of man vs. nature. $11

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Surviving the Extremes

by Dr. Kenneth Kamler – For anyone who ventures in the wild, Dr. Kamler tells in great detail the effects of weather and environment on the body, from the initial symptoms to those that immediately precede death. It’s both a rubber-necking read into adventure gone bad and a “how-to” on avoiding becoming the basis of an Outside magazine post-mortem. $10

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The Education of Henry Adams

by Henry Adams – Autobiography of Henry Adams, scion of the American royal family of John and John Quincy. Written in the third person, Adams reminds us of the value of experience and self-education over formal schooling. He also points out the importance of balancing a classic education with an understanding of STEM. $12

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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond – The reasons behind the rise and fall of civilizations. $11

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The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

by John Maynard Keynes – The granddaddy of economic thought that is so much the rage amongst liberals. $8

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Dispatches

by Michael Herr – Personal, intense account of the Vietnam war. $16

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The Second World War

by Winston Churchill – The definitive history of WWII written by one of the men who most shaped its outcome. $76

Best Fiction | Best Nonfiction | Best Short Fiction | Best Poetry/Theater | Best Philosophy/Essays

Short Fiction

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allan Poe
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The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by Leo Tolstoy – Facing a horrible, unexciting and agonizing death: you only get to do it once. $8

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Short Stories by O. Henry

by O. Henry – Nuggets of sly, intriguing and inspiring human interaction. Read “The Last Leaf” and try not to ponder heroic sacrifice; “The Green Door” primes for adventure like no other. $8

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The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury – They’re all good, but read “There Will Come Soft Rains”, a tale of a doomed future where technology has failed to save mankind. What would you leave behind if it all ended? $8

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The Open Boat

by Stephen Crane – Death, cruel nature and the fraternal brotherhood of men. $10

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Tales of Ordinary Madness

by Charles Bukowski – Bukowski’s a cult hero, poet and dirtbag. One story in this collection has his alter ego, Chinaski, get tossed into a cactus while trying to grab a Zen monk’s ears. $11

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Dubliners

by James Joyce – The master; but more approachable than Ulysses. Read “The Dead” if nothing else. $2

Best Fiction Books | Best Nonfiction Books | Best Short Fiction | Best Poetry/Theater | Best Essay/Philosophy | Best Memoir/Biography

Poetry/Theater

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” – Robert Frost
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The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth

by William Wordsworth – Read “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” and see if you don’t fall in love with nature. Can’t remember a poem as beautifully written and as moving, ever. Wordsworth, indeed. $29

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The Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe – Dread that rolls off the tongue as if it were joy. $10

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The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

by Pablo Neruda – We’ll allow Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto to speak for us here. “The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty”. $14

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The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde – Because brevity is the soul of wit, and wit is the soul of Oscar Wilde. $8

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The Best of Robert Service

by Robert Service – The kind of Yukon adventure poetry you’ll want to sing out loud while holding a tankard of ale. $16

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The Duck Variations

by David Mamet – Mamet’s play about two old men who know nothing about ducks, sitting on a bench talking about ducks. What they’re really talking about is life. $12

Best Fiction Books | Best Nonfiction Books | Best Short Fiction | Best Poetry/Theater | Best Essay/Philosophy | Best Memoir/Biography

Philosophy/Essay

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” – E. M. Forster
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Me Talk Pretty One Day

by David Sedaris – A collection of essays providing a humorous lens to the struggles of trudging through life both at home and abroad. $10

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One Man’s Meat

by E. B. White – Classic essays on Maine life — that apply pretty much anywhere. $10

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Prejudices

by H. L. Mencken – Mencken was sharp as hell, both in his way with words and his point-by-point destruction of foolishness, bigotry and some of life’s biggest questions. Read “Exeunt Omnes” for a plain, serious, disarming examination of death. $44

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Walking

by Henry David Thoreau – A thoughtful exploration that moves through the simplest of acts with a cadence of comforting language. $8

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The Federalist Papers

by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay – Want to understand the Constitution better? A few takers. These 85 essays published between 1787 and 1788 under the pseudonym, Publius, made the public case for ratifying the law of the land. $10

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Simulations

by Jean Baudrillard – There is no longer any reality or meaning; they’ve been replaced by signs and symbols. The Matrix borrowed heavily from Baudrillard’s theories. $8

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Letters from a Stoic

by Seneca – The handbook on seeking wisdom. $10

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On Photography

by Susan Sontag – An important collection of essays about the history and role of images by an American intellectual celebrity, back when we had those. $10

Best Fiction Books | Best Nonfiction Books | Best Short Fiction | Best Poetry/Theater | Best Essay/Philosophy | Best Memoir/Biography

Memoir/Biography

“Biography lends to death a new terror.” – Oscar Wilde
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Going Solo

by Roald Dahl – Because Mr. Dahl lived life passionately and with an insatiable thirst for adventure. $7

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Touching the Void

by Joe Simpson – Mountaineering’s greatest survival story, period. $9

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Into Thin Air

by Jon Krakauer – Mountaineering’s greatest disaster story. $10

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Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

by Ranulph Fiennes – Memoir of a life most men would love to lead. $10

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