‘Be a man’ is something many of us repeatedly hear during our lives. But are you ever just a man? Not really; you’re also a partner, parent, worker, creative, traveller, and so much more. It all depends on the context, and contexts change. If your context is shifting, has shifted, or you’re just looking for a new point of view, here are ten books for different contexts, all answering (and asking) questions about what it means to live a good life.
P.S. If you’re not a big reader, audiobooks are always a great option to pick up and put down on drives and walks.
“Women find a man’s willingness to do housework extremely erotic.”
Ok, that may not be the biggest lesson from this book, but it is a hot tip!
Our spouse or partner is the most important person for many of us. That’s the person we “do life” with — making decisions, daily work to run a household, paying bills, planning trips, and supporting one another.
If there’s one relationship that most impacts our health, longevity, sense of self, safety, and more, it is this one. If you’re going to get under the hood of the car or go to the gym and lift some weights, you might also want to take a closer look and do some heavy lifting in this area of your life (in other words, at home, with your partner). Start with this book!
Men & Purpose: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Have you been feeling like you’ve been missing something in your life? Perhaps you’re looking for meaning or purpose.
If that rings true, it’s worth searching for. Before you do, it’s important to understand that it likely isn’t found in money, nor does it need to be something as grandiose as ‘changing the world’. You can make meaning from the little things, everyday.
Do you intentionally tell people you care about (partner/kids/friends) what you love about them? Do you do tasks like mopping the floor or loading the printer paper with a smile and a whistle to spread good vibes?
If Viktor Frankl can create meaning for himself in the Nazi death camps of World War II, there’s hope for any of us to carve it out in our day-to-day lives.
Men & Mental Health: I Don’t Want to Talk About It by Terrence Real
“Men’s willingness to downplay weakness and pain is so great that it has been named as a factor in their shorter life span. The ten years of difference in longevity between men and women turns out to have little to do with genes. Men wait longer to acknowledge that they are sick, take longer to get help, and once they get treatment do not comply with it as well as women do.”
Is something a constant thorn in your side, but you’re too scared to look because you’re worried about what you might find?
That nagging feeling that you should probably book a physical, some time to talk to a counsellor, or call up that friend you haven’t seen in a while, but it’s been so long that it feels awkward? Maybe it’s time to do those things.
We’ve lost many good men to ‘man up.’ Don’t let the next one be you.
Men & Grief: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
Let’s be honest – none of us are ever really ready to say goodbye to a loved one. Whether the loss is sudden or drawn out, grief is something that needs to be worked through.
If you have a Netflix subscription, grief is nicely explained in the (adult) cartoon show Human Resources through the character ‘Keith from Grief’. What starts out as a need to start the mourning process, however inconvenient or unwanted, can quickly turn into a monster if we ignore it. As Keith says, “the only way out is through.”
Men & Philosophy: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
“Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what’s outside your control.”
Are you a man in search of a code? Might we suggest capital ‘S’ Stoicism?
Not to be confused with lower case stoicism (being unfeeling/unemotional/unmoved), the philosophy of Stoicism is a helpful filter for our day-to-day experiences to check our thoughts and find peace of mind.
One of the main ideas of Stoicism is understanding what is and isn’t in our control. Once we can figure that out, it only makes sense to take action on things in our control. Those actions should be guided by the four virtues of Stoicism: Courage, Justice, Temperance (moderation), and Wisdom.
Men & History: The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant
“The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.”
When things feel a little wonky in the real world (i.e. pandemics, wild financial markets, political leaders you don’t trust), it can be helpful to take a step back and look at history.
Why? Because, as they say, history repeats itself.
The authors expose some of these patterns in this short (less than 120 pages!) book. It may not offer a solution, but we can find some comfort in knowing these things aren’t quite ‘unprecedented.’
Men & Therapy: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
“But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”
There’s a joke going around the internet: Men will do X before they go to therapy. Men will buy Twitter before they go to therapy, men will go scream in the woods before they go to therapy, etc.
One of my favourite things my therapist has said to me is that “you can’t read the label from inside the jar.” Perhaps it helps to think of therapy as another perspective that you can’t get from friends and family, since they’re too biased by your relationship with them.
Better yet, it’s helpful to know that therapists have therapists too. Lori gives us a 360-degree view as she counsels her clients and seeks counselling to aid her in knowing herself.
Men & Resilience: You Are Awesome by Neil Pasricha
“There’s no you of today without everything in your past. There’s no you of tomorrow without everything you’re going through now, either.”
Neil has been through some stuff. In a couple of years, he divorced his first wife and lost his best friend to suicide. That’d be reason enough to wallow. Not Neil, though.
Neil gave himself some purpose. He started a blog titled 1,000 Awesome Things to remind himself daily for almost three years of how great the world could be. During the pandemic, he revived the project as the Next 1,000 to beat back the anxiety of this strange and disruptive time.
Most of Neil’s projects include themes of gratitude, happiness, failure, resilience, connection, and trust. If you need a dose of those, give it a try.
Men & Emotion: Atlas of the Heart by Brenv Brown
“Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. We have to ask questions, admit to not knowing, risk being told that we shouldn’t be asking, and, sometimes, make discoveries that lead to discomfort.”
You may have heard of Brené Brown by now. If not, her TED talks on vulnerability and shame are well worth the watch. Brené specializes in ‘embracing the suck’ because life is hard.
In Atlas of the Heart, she unpacks 87 (!!!) of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. Imagine the tools available to you if you could work with more than ‘mad, sad, and glad’ as options in your emotional toolkit. As she says, “with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”
Men & Money: I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
“The single most important factor to getting rich is getting started, not being the smartest person in the room.”
Money is something that we spend a lot of time worrying about. However, we probably waste a lot of that worry on the 1% optimization (will Bitcoin go up or down?) and not the 99% of getting started (spending less than you earn).
This book offers a simple system to build your own wealth by reigning in your debt, setting money aside for future you, and spending consciously on the things you love and not the things you don’t. No avocado toast avoidance here.
A ‘set it and forget it’ personal finance system can save a large amount of mental load.
Well, if you like reading, consider joining Next Gen Men’s B.O.O.K. Club — Beyond Our Own Knowledge. It invites men to join a cohort of peers, dig into a curated book, and connect with each other to unpack what we’ve read, and unlearn something new about our position in the world. Learn more and register here.