They say that a man will become the books he reads and the people he associates with. But in our modern, "tolerant" society- a society in which we have little control over who we surround ourselves with-, the power of the book over the development of the mind becomes even more powerful. Tragically, few people read in the critical, classical sense these days. Instead, we scan the internet; we read what someone else writes about a book, and then think to ourselves, "Ah, now I understand the book; there's no need to read it."
How sad and stupid we have become...
The written word is a powerful thing. In fact, for centuries of socio-cultural development, literacy could be used almost as a proxy for freedom itself: Masters could read; slaves could not. And that was all one needed to know. Somewhat paradoxically, we "modern men" who live in a world that long ago abandoned slavery have in turn abandoned the very mechanism by which it was once measured: the ability to read and write. Moreover, we have abandoned it at precisely the moment in which we need it most, with father dishonored, with the nuclear family in a multi-generational free-fall, and with manhood and masculinity condemned both in school and in society.
Luckily, we can always rediscover what we have lost; when the world has failed us, the book remains. And so with that, we humbly present a short list of books that every man should read, in no particular order.
Book 1: Hagakure, by Tsunetomo Yamamoto
Manhood is nothing if not the pursuit of honor, and in the face of death and destruction. And nobody exemplifies that standard more so than the Samurai of feudal Japan. But although we know much about the Samurai, most of what we know has come down to us second-hand. This is why the Hagakure is of such monumental value: It was written by a Samurai, about the Samurai, for the benefit of the Samurai. Thankfully, the book takes no prisoners, and leaps into the Way of the Samurai from the very first page with the following damned manly passage:
"The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one's aim is to die a dog's death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one's aim."
~ Tsunetomo Yamamoto
Book 2: Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield
Two millennia before the Samurai came into existence, a small tribe of Hellenes had already begun building what must be considered even to this day perhaps the greatest warrior society ever to have existed in human history: the Spartans. And none have brought their ethos to life quite like Steven Pressfield, whose brilliant book Gates of Fire became an instant classic upon publication. Having himself been a Marine, he is an author uniquely acquainted with the theory of war and the philosophy of the warrior, and expresses that acquaintance with ease, for instance in the following passage:
"War, not peace, produces virtue; war, not peace, purges vice; war, and preparation for war, call forth all that is noble and honorable in a man. It unites him with his brothers and binds them in selfless love, eradicating in the crucible of necessity all which is base and ignoble. There in the holy mill of murder the meanest of men may seek and find that part of himself, concealed beneath the corrupt, which shines forth brilliant and virtuous, worthy of honor before the gods. Do not despise war, my young friend, nor delude yourself that mercy and compassion are virtues superior to andreia, to manly valor."
~ Steven Pressfield
Gates of Fire
Book 3: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray is well-known among literati as an English classic. But what is rarely discussed is Oscar Wilde's insight into the soul of modern man, and into the dangers of materialism. For The Picture of Dorian Gray is, above all else, a criticism of modernism, of its soullessness and superficiality; moreover, it is a warning. "Be cautious, young man," it seems to say, "for all that glitters is not gold."
"You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit."
~ Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Book 4: Dune, by Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert's brilliant book Dune- and indeed the entirety of the original Dune series- is a master's class on Nietzschean philosophy taught via science fiction. Dune is many things: a superhero novel; a treatise on man's relationship with the world; a deep and penetrating look into the mechanics of power dynamics within human society- and much, much more. Without Dune, there would be no Star Wars and no Star Trek. Frank Herbert's insight into human psychology was second to none in the science fiction world, and his ability to consistently express those insights in novel forms was incomparable.
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer; fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear; I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
~ Frank Herbert
Book 5: Demons, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
It was once said that even if Dostoevsky had not been such a brilliant psychologist, he still would have been the greatest writer of all time, if only because he could paint pictures as though he were Rembrandt. This may or may not be the case, but the very statement reveals the monster of genius that was Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Finally, his character Nikolay Stavrogin may be one of the greatest literary creations ever written, and is a perfect representation of man in the modern world: lost, vicious, and damned to himself.
"You cannot imagine what sorrow and anger seize one's whole soul when a great idea, which one has long and piously revered, is picked up by some bunglers and dragged into the street, to more fools like themselves, and one suddenly meets it in the flea market, unrecognizable, dirty, askew, absurdly presented, without proportion, without harmony, a toy for stupid children."
~ Fyodor Dostoevsky
Book 6: Beyond Good & Evil, by Friedrich Nietzsche
There is perhaps no philosopher in history who delved more deeply into the depths of the human condition than Friedrich Nietzsche, and none of his books expressed that depth in a more logical, systematic fashion than Beyond Good & Evil. Nietzsche was fearless in his willingness to face the truth- no matter how horrifying-, and no philosopher has ever written prose like Nietzsche wrote prose: ecstatically, half-mad, and without pity either for himself or humanity. Beyond Good & Evil may well be his most quoted book- and that is saying something. Of all philosophers, Nietzsche is the most quotable, not to mention the most misunderstood.
"To recognize untruth as a condition of life- that certainly means resisting accustomed value feelings in a dangerous way, and a philosophy that risks this would by that token alone place itself beyond good and evil."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Beyond Good & Evil
Book 7: The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell
We mentioned earlier that without Frank Herbert, there would be no Star Wars; the same could be said for Joseph Campbell. For it was Campbell's work in The Hero With a Thousand Faces that changed our understanding of male-mythic psychology forever- and created a blueprint for what he referred to as the Hero's Journey. Campbell was a monster among academics, which is interesting because before he came along, "mythologist" was not really a thing at all; Campbell made it a thing, because his work- and the genius that shined through it- simply could not be ignored. And today, that work is still considered a classic, especially among Jungians, as can be seen in the quote below:
"The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form - all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void."
~ Joseph Campbell
The Hero With a Thousand Faces
~ Joshua van Asakinda
[Note: This content is self-funded and self-published; please consider supporting it by donating through our payment portal at PayPal.]