Groucho Marx once said: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” We’re not quite sure what he meant either, but what we do know is that books are an essential for any man.
So, whether you’re heading off abroad and need a page-turner, or just want to have something other than Harry Kane’s ankle injury to talk about on a Tinder date next week, here are the 100 books that’ll broaden your horizons (and bulk out your bookshelf).
Men Without Women – Ernest Hemingway
Best For: Understanding Women Classic Hemingway subjects – bullfighting, war, women, more war – in a collection of short stories proving that masculinity lacking a softer touch is a dangerous thing. If you’ve been dumped, or you’re just missing your mum, then you need this.
A Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde
Best For: When You’ve Found Another Grey Hair A handsome, innocent young man sells his soul to keep his dashing good looks – and of course it all goes pear-shaped. It’ll make you feel better about the march of time and skipping the gym, plus it’s full of classic Wilde quips you can fire off at the dinner table.
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
Best For: Reaffirming War Is Good For Absolutely Nothing Prisoner of war, optometrist, father, time-traveller, plane-crash survivor: Billy Pilgrim is all these and more in a miraculously moving, bitter and blackly hilarious story of innocence faced with apocalypse.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Best For: The DiCaprio Nod Leo rarely puts a foot wrong, but even he couldn’t capture the magnetic Jay Gatsby as well as Fitzgerald did on page. Set in the summer of 1922, with the Roaring Twenties in full swing, this is a terrific unpicking of decadence, social change and excess.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Best For: Bratchnys A merciless satire of state control, in which Burgess imagined a dystopian future of ultraviolence decades before it became a sci-fi standard. Much of it is written in the slang spoken by teen hero, Alex; ‘bratchnys’ are bastards (and so are Alex and his murderous crew.)
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Best For: Intense Moral Conundrum There’s no sugar-coating this one: a man obsessed with the 12-year-old daughter of his landlady and so marries the mother to be near her. From there, the ground only gets dodgier. The most controversial book on this list is a literary hot potato that will never cool down.
Brighton Rock – Graham Greene
Best For: Seaside Sins Brighton wasn’t always cocktail bars and vintage shops. In 1938, a gang war is raging, and ruthless Pinkie has just killed his first victim. In trying to cover his tracks, he only digs himself into a deeper hole.
1984 – George Orwell
Best For: A Jolt Of Future Shock No list of great books would be complete without this influential masterpiece, which gets more prescient year by year. Winston Smith rewrites the past to suit the needs of the ruling party, who run a totalitarian society under the watchful eye of Big Brother.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver
Best For: Toasting Don Draper A collection of brilliant short stories about the lonely men and women of the American Midwest who drink, fish and play cards to ease the passing of time. Along with fellow US short-story master John Cheever, Carver’s words inspired Mad Men.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Best For: Breaking The Rules You’ve probably seen the film, but this really is a case of ‘the book is better’. Evil Nurse Ratched rules an Oregon mental institution with an iron fist until new arrival McMurphy, who faked madness to dodge hard labour in the joint, brings chaos and hope to his fellow inmates.
The Catcher In The Rye – J.D.Salinger
Best For: Angst In Your Pants Any book about the harshness of teenage life will resonate with anyone who is or has been a teen, but the misadventures of Holden Caulfield have become the set text, and rightly so. He is cynical, jaded, dickishly rebellious. And we have, in ways big and small, all been there.
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Best For: Getting Things Done The innermost thoughts of the Roman Emperor from 161-180AD are a genuinely practical and insightful guide to life almost 1,900 years later. Silicon Valley billionaires and their teams love this book and its ideas for the way it helps them to accept the world as it is, then rule it.
The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley
Best For: Keeping Secrets They say “the past is a foreign country”. Well, that’s because it’s the famous opening line of this novel, in which an old man recalls the summer he spent aged 13 at his friend’s country house, as he shipped illicit messages between his chum’s engaged sister and a local farmer.
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Best For: Page-Turning And Page-Burning In the America of the future, people are addicted to watching soap-opera-style shows on giant screens in their homes. Books are banned, firemen hunt down illicit volumes and burn them. A book about the magic of reading and how we must never let it fade away.
The Odyssey – Homer
Best For: Original Adventure The original homecoming tale – a king’s decade-long slog home after the Trojan War – contains: witches, monsters, betrayal, drugs, cannibals, disguises, a bit of war and quite a lot of slaughter. Every man-on-a-quest story and road movie owes a debt to this remarkable tale.
Bleak House – Charles Dickens
Best For: Epic Shenanigans To be fair, the Dickens pick on this list could have been one of a dozen. But this Victorian doorstop, with its massive cast (including the murky London underworld), is the most impressive and entertaining. A legal tussle over a will plays havoc with the lives of the potential beneficiaries and those around them.
Heart Of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Best For: “The Horror, The Horror!” In 1890, the author captained a steamboat up the Congo River. A decade later, his novel about something very similar became a sensation. In 1979 it was very freely adapted into the epic Vietnam movie Apocalypse Now. Also, at less than 100 pages, you have no excuses not to finish it.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Best For: The Sum Of Its Parts Yes, everybody now knows that the monster isn’t Frankenstein; that’s the mad scientist who makes him. But did you know that science-fiction was basically invented with this book, written by an 18-year-old girl challenged to come up with a ghost story? Still creepy and relevant despite being 200 years old.
The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler
Best For: Prime Pulp Fiction “The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back.” “He was a guy who talked with commas, like a heavy novel.” “A dead man is the best fall guy in the world. He never talks back.” Just a sample of the hardboiled genius on display in this truly great detective yarn.
The Lord of The Rings – JRR Tolkien
Best For: Hobbit-Forming When it comes to fantasy, there is one story to rule them all. The massive success of the film trilogy based on it does not dim the power of the source material. Amazon is spending $1bn making the TV version. For many, though, the original remains the masterpiece.
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Best For: A Whale Of A Time Sperm whale eats sailor’s lower leg; sailor tricks other sailors into crewing his revenge mission; it doesn’t go well. A tale of obsession, adventure, maritime manliness and beast-slaying that does not get old as it ages.
Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
Best For: Brutal Beatlemania When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend, Kizuki. Delving into his student years in Tokyo, Toru dabbles in uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire.
Money: A Suicide Note – Martin Amis
Best For: Learning Restraint Wealthy transatlantic movie executive John Self allows himself whatever he wants whenever he wants it: alcohol, tobacco, pills, pornography, a mountain of junk food. It’s never going to end well, is it? A cautionary tale of a life lived without boundaries.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Best For: Going Hungry Of the many, many recent stories of survival in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, this one is the toughest, smartest and the one which stays with you the longest. A father and son contrive to survive in the face of cannibalism, starvation and brutality.
The Sportswriter – Richard Ford
Best For: Knowing The Grass Isn’t Greener Frank Bascombe, it seems, is living the dream: a younger girlfriend and a job as a sports writer. But his inner turmoil and private tragedies show all is not always as it seems, even for those who seem to have it all.
The 25th Hour – David Benioff
Best For: Clock Watching Facing a seven-year stretch for dealing, Monty Brogan sets out to make the most of his last night of freedom. His dad wants him to do a runner, his drug-lord boss wants to know if he squealed, his girlfriend is confused and his friends are trying to prepare him for the worst. It’s a lot to fit in.
We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
Best For: Questioning Yourself The story of Eva, mother of Kevin, who murdered seven of his fellow high-school students and two members of staff. She’s coming to terms with the fact that her maternal instincts could have driven him off the rails. It’s made worse by the fact that he survived and she can’t help visiting him in prison.
American Pastoral – Philip Roth
Best For: Bursting The American Dream The Sixties was a time for sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and, erm, political mayhem. Swede Levov is living the American dream until his daughter Merry becomes involved in political terrorism that drags the family into the underbelly of society. Totally rad.
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
Best For: Career Killers The film is a contemporary masterpiece, but Patrick Bateman is even more evil on paper than he is on screen. An outright psychopath partly made by life on Wall Street, this bitterly black comedy is a classic that’ll keep you in line should you become a desk drone.
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Best For: Murder Most Moral A group of eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a unique way of thinking thanks to their classics professor, which forces them to contemplate how easy it can be to kill someone if they cross you.
The Watchmen – Alan Moore
Best For: Picturing The Scene The most lauded graphic novel of all time concerns a team of superheroes called the Crimebusters, and a plot to kill and discredit them. Packed with symbolism and intelligent political and social commentary, with artwork as brilliant as the text.
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
Best For: Mother’s Day Appreciation After 50 years as a wife and mother, Enid wants to have some fun. But as her husband Alfred is losing his grip on reality, and their children have left the nest, she sets her heart on one last family Christmas. Virtue, sexual inhibition, outdated mental healthcare and globalised greed are all under the tree.
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
Best For: Shadowy Thrills One evening in December 1976, gunmen burst into Bob Marley’s house in Jamaica, having shot his wife on the driveway, and shot Bob and his manager multiple times. No arrests were made. True story. James imagines what happens to the perpetrators, with appearances by the CIA and a ghost.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
Best For: Nerd Nirvana The greatest superhero story ever told isn’t about costumed men, but the men who create them. Kavalier & Clay create The Escapist, at the start of comic books’ Golden Age in Thirties New York. He is super-popular; K&C miss out on the big money but can’t avoid the pitfalls of love and war.
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Best For: Magical Realism The tots of the title are all born in the first hour of India’s independence – midnight til 1am on August 15, 1947 – and they all have superpowers. One of them, a telepath, tries to find out why while reaching out to the others. Won the Booker Prize, and twice won Booker best-of votes on anniversaries of the award.
Robert Harris – Fatherland
Best For: Wondering What-If A most chillingly plausible alternate history, in which Germany won World War II (Oxford University is an SS Academy, and the Germans are winning the space race) and senior Nazi party officials are being offed in Sixties Berlin. Turns out there’s a conspiracy to silence the ultimate conspiracy…
The Stand – Stephen King
Best For: Good vs Evil The modern master of genre fiction’s magnum opus is the 1990 Complete and Uncut version of his 1978 novel. A virus has all but wiped out humanity. American survivors gravitate to either Las Vegas (the bad lot) or Boulder, Colorado (the goodies), then the two tribes ready for the showdown.
High-Rise – J.G. Ballard
Best For: Block Party Politics When the residents of a posh tower block find their sweet set-up falling apart, the response is feral. Minor social differences lead to floor-versus-floor violence. The well-to-do become savages, and what that nice Dr Laing does with his neighbour’s dog is decidedly un-vegan.
A Perfect Spy – John Le Carré
Best For: The Secret Life David Cornwell worked as a British intelligence officer for almost nine years before adopting the pen name of John Le Carré and quitting spookery. Of his 23 spy novels, this is the best, perhaps because it’s the most autobiographical, although the made-up secret-service bits are first-rate too.
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
Best For: The Modern World A cross-generational saga of North London life rooted in the British immigrant experience that’s much funnier than the first half of this sentence makes out. The dentistry of the title is what everyone here – Bangladeshi, Jamaican, white British or otherwise – have in common.
Spies – Michael Frayn
Best For: Playing Detective You’re trying to get through a wartime summer in London, but you find out your mum is a German spy. You bring one of your classmates in on the surveillance, but, without your knowledge, she enlists him in her mysterious deeds. Not a ‘whodunit’, more an outstandingly original ‘whoisit’?
American Tabloid – James Ellroy
Best For: Solving JFK’s Murder In the messed-up mind of Ellroy, crime fiction’s self-proclaimed demon dog, the CIA, FBI, Mafia and Hollywood are all involved in the assassination of “Bad-Back Jack”. The rat-a-tat-tat of Ellroy’s short, slang-centric sentences boosts what would still be a fine secret-history yarn to be something powerful and electric.
Style, Fitness & Mind-Enhancement
ABC of Men’s Fashion – Hardy Amies
Best For: Wardrobe Rules Classic style is forever – which is 99 per cent true in the case of this pocket encyclopaedia written in 1964 by a Savile Row legend. When you get to ‘B’, you can be amused by 150 words on ‘Bowler Hats’, but skip ‘Beachwear’ at your peril: “A plain navy blue shirt with white linen trousers will always outshine any patterned job.”
Men of Style – Josh Sims
Best For: Brushing Up Style guides can often be more decorative than useful, but this one, by the venerable fashion journalist Sims, profiles the best-dressed men of the past century so that you can steal for your look the things that make them so undeniably well-dressed.
Men and Style – David Coggins
Best For: Excavating Your True Look It is hard to be stylish if you haven’t grasped what ‘style’ means for you. Coggins understands that it stretches beyond clothes (although they are mightily important) to the influence of your father – yes, him! – your school days, your surroundings and more.
Thinking, Fast And Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Best For: Mind Games Why is there more chance we’ll believe something if it’s in a bold typeface? Why do we assume a good-looking person will be more competent? The answer lies in the two ways we make choices: fast, intuitive thinking, and slow, rational thinking. This book has practical techniques for slower, smarter thinking, so you can make better decisions at work, home and life in general.
How Not To Be Wrong – Jordan Ellenberg
Best For: Number Crunching If the maths you learned in school has slipped your mind, there’s something to be said for this book helping you to re-grasp numbers: a powerful commodity in a post-truth world. You’ll learn to how to analyse important situations at work and at play – and how early you actually need to get to the airport.
Happiness By Design – Paul Dolan
Best For: Living The Good Life As figures prove, we’re all stretched and stressed. So how can we make it easier to be happy? Using the latest cutting-edge research, Dolan, a professor of behavioural science, reveals that wellbeing isn’t about how we think, it’s about what we do.
The Chimp Paradox – Steve Peters
Best For: Retraining Your Brain Peters helped British Cycling, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and other pro sports stars win more. He says our brains are emotional (the chimp bit), logical (human) and automatically instinctive (like a computer). We can’t shut off the monkey, but with work, the other two parts can control it. Reading this won’t make you World Snooker Champion, but you will be empowered to make more successful choices in life.
Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig
Best For: Mental Wellbeing Aged 24, Haig was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression and contemplating suicide. His memoir of coming back from the brink is an honest, moving and funny exploration of triumph over failing mental health that almost destroyed him.
The World’s Fittest Book – Ross Edgley
Best For: Getting Into The Right Shape Quite the claim in the title there, but ‘fitness adventurer’ Edgley backs it up with straightforward and achievable ways to lose weight, tone up and get shredded. Less about following fitness plans (result) and more about applying basic concepts so you can exercise in the right way.
Feet In The Clouds – Richard Askwith
Best For: Running On Empty If you love exercising, you’ll love this dispatch from the world of fell running. If you don’t, then reading about the people who commit to running up and down mountains will help you understand why they love it, and maybe some of their motivation will rub off on you.
Real Fast Food – Nigel Slater
Best For: Cooking IRL Encouragement to eat out of the pan, ingredients in tins and the secret to a perfect bacon sandwich: Slater has over 350 recipes that take less than 30 minutes and don’t require much cheffing, written so any fool can follow them. His take on bacon? Smoked streaky, nearly crisp, untoasted white bread dipped in the bacon fat, no sauce.
Five Quarters – Rachel Roddy
Best For: Pasta Perfection Italian food done simply and totally authentically. The author moved to Rome from the UK on a whim in 2005 and taught herself how to cook like an Italian nonna. Veggies will find a lot to love in this one, too.
Roast Chicken And Other Stories – Simon Hopkinson
Best For: English Classics A book beloved by chefs and food writers, for good reason: Hopkinson makes everything, even the offal, sound absolutely delicious. He picks 40 ingredients, explains why they’re essential, then gives a few recipes for each. Cooking, he says, is about making food you like to eat, not showing off.
Made In India: Cooked In Britain – Meera Sodha
Best For: Takeaway At Home Totally debunking the ‘it’s too hard to make good curries’ myth, this splendid work also has pictures showing important stages of recipes, not just a food-porn shot of the final dish. Also tons of delicious things even curry-house connoisseurs might not have heard of.
Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker
Best For: Ruling The Land Of Nod Everyone knows that they should get more, better sleep, but actually trying to do so can be stressful enough to cause lack of sleep. This bestseller unpicks exactly what happens when your head hits the pillow. More importantly, it explains why and how to get your head right beforehand.
How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran
Best For: Opposite Sex Education Since this is the book that “every woman should read”, according to one of its many, many amazing reviews, then surely every man would benefit from reading it, too? A feminist manifesto disguised as a hilarious memoir (or is it vice versa?) from one of the UK’s funniest writers.
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
Best For: Spiritual Enlightenment The author was approaching 30 and borderline suicidal, when he had an epiphany, separating what made him happy real from what was, mostly, the bullshit dragging him down. Years trying to understand how he saw the light meant he can explain it, better than the others who have tried, so you can do the same, too.
Sit Down and Be Quiet – Michael James Wong
Best For: Boosting Body And Mind The genius of this yoga and mindfulness manual for the modern man is in the way it presents those two practices as things you already do in some ways (habits from childhood and sport, mainly). Then, the ways you’re not doing them – physical and mental techniques – are put forth in a non-preachy manner.
A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
Best For: Well, Nearly Everything We could have put this in the science section, given it is a scientific history ranging from the Big Bang to mankind. Anyway: now think of your best-ever teacher. Bryson is like that – curious, witty, in love with his subject – and learning along with him is a pleasure.
Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari
Best For: A Selfie Of Ourselves Humans came to rule the world, according to this global bestseller, because we mastered fire, gossip, agriculture, mythology, money, contradictions and science. Harari himself is a master of distilling big ideas and concepts, and his book full of them will make your smarter.
Prisoners Of Geography – Tim Marshall
Best For: Mapping It All Out How and why countries do stuff to other countries because of the landscape, the climate, the culture and the natural resources available: that’s geopolitics. And to get a grip on why the world is how it is – no more important time to do that than right now – you read this.
Stasiland – Anna Funder
Best For: Cold War Stories In East Germany, the Stasi was the state security apparatus, which investigated the country’s citizens to an astonishing degree. A few years after the Berlin Wall fell, Funder met with former spies, handlers and resistance operatives, all with incredible tales.
The Plantagenets – Dan Jones
Best For: Past Glory One of the breed of young historians making history TV must-see again, Jones also writes big, juicy, novelistic books. This is the one that takes in 280 years of England and its kings from 1120, including Crusades, Black Death, civil war, war with France, heroes, legends, sacking of cities and all the rest of it. Truly stirring stuff.
Life 3.0 – Max Tegmark
Best For: AI, OK? Artificial intelligence is going to change humanity perhaps more than any other technology, so you kind of owe it to yourself to know what’s coming down the pipe. Tegmark smartly and succinctly puts forward all the arguments for and against the rise of the robots – because rise they will.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli
Best For: Demystifying The World, Quickly As it says on the tin: between six and eight short essays about life, the universe and everything, which will tease and enlarge your brain, not tie it in knots. Perfectly formed into 96 pages that deliver a masterclass in relativity, quantum mechanics and mankind’s place in time in space.
The Sixth Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
Best For: Reaching The End Times No prizes for guessing that number six on the list of mass extinction events is happening now, as humankind reduces species diversity on Earth like nothing since the asteroid that finished off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This book, grippingly, reports on what’s happening now, and those times before.
Behave – Robert Sapolsky
Best For: Why We Do What Do Every one of us is a student of human behaviour, so a book that gives you a distinct advantage over our classmates can only be A Good Thing. That it’s written by a scientist with a sense of humour nailing his mission to demystify complex science is a massive bonus also.
The Making Of The Atomic Bomb – Richard Rhodes
Best For: Explosive Insight An epic recollection of how mankind came to harness, then unleash, the power of the atom. From the first nuclear fission to the bombs that dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Rhodes marshals a huge cast of scientists (and spies) and leaves no stone unturned.
Long Walk To Freedom – Nelson Mandela
Best For: Genuine Inspiration The short version of Mandela’s life is widely known, but his detailed and moving autobiography, published in 1994, the year he became president of South Africa, is a never-to-be-forgotten account of his fight against apartheid.
I Am Zlatan – Zlatan Ibrahimovich
Best For: Ego Boosts And Footy Boots He is, by his own account, one of the greatest footballers of the modern age. Whether or not you agree, his life story is fascinating, and he gets stuck in on the page as on the pitch. “If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains.”
H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald
Best For: Grasping Nature’s Power This multi-award winning memoir has a most unusual premise. The author, when “a kind of madness set in” after the death of her father, drives up to Scotland from Cambridge to buy a goshawk for £800 and spends a year training it.
Do No Harm – Henry Marsh
Best For: Surgical Precision Marsh is a consultant neurosurgeon and this, his first volume of memoirs, is a glimpse inside his mind and, indeed, those of his patients. He has little time for NHS middle management, and is as precise with (literally) cutting remarks and insightful asides as he is with his scalpel.
Touching The Void – Joe Simpson
Best For: Life Or Death Scenarios Picture the scene (it starts on page 68 of this adventure classic, if you need some help): you are up a mountain, in difficult conditions, when you slip and fall. You are hanging from the rope tied to your companion, but he has to decide: if he doesn’t cut the rope, you likely both die. What would you do? A real-life version plays out in this astonishing story.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
Best For: Madness And Mayhem
The inventor of gonzo journalism recalls – lord only knows how – a drugs binge to Vegas with his attorney. In lesser hands, this would have been boring, because reading about other people being high is almost always dull. With Thompson in charge, this trippy travelogue fizzles with mad energy.
Unreasonable Behaviour – Don McCullin
Best For: Life Behind A Lens
As life stories go, this one takes some beating. A 15-year-old with no qualifications ends up as one of the great war photographers, taking in Vietnam, Africa and the Middle East. He also takes a bullet in the camera and is pushed to physical and emotional extremes in the theatres of conflict.
Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby
Best For: The Fannish Inquisition
The best book ever written about what it’s like to be a football fan, despite the glut of titles that has followed it since it was published in 1992. Hornby’s Arsenal addiction can be mapped onto any club, and his insight and honesty ring so very true.
The Story Of The Streets – Mike Skinner
Best For: Rapper’s Delight
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to lyrics by The Streets that the book written by the man behind them displays both a love of words and a refreshingly honest look at the world. Part guide to the highs and lows of fame, part unpicking of hip-hop as an art form, all good.
How Not To Be A Boy – Robert Webb
Best For: The Male
Comedians’ memoirs are ten-a-penny, but this one stands out because the star of Peep Show goes deep into the difficulties of being ‘different’ as a boy in the 1970s and 1980s, his complicated early family life and what it means to be a man in today’s world. Of course, it’s very funny, too.
Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
Best For: Getting To Apple’s Core
As well as the amazing tale of the rise, fall and rise again of Apple, and the stories behind its iconic products, Issacson’s official biog of geek god Jobs does one thing few official biogs do: print the negative stuff. Jobs could be, often, a douchebag, and learning that along with the positives makes this a must-read.
Fast Company – Jon Bradshaw
Best For: Taking A Punt
Six profiles of legendary gamblers and chancers, including pool legend Minnesota Fats, tennis hustler Bobby Riggs and poker players Pug Pearson and Johnny Moss. “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned,” says Paul Newman as Eddie Felson in The Color Of Money. Here’s proof.
Killing Pablo – Mark Bowden
Best For: Crowning The Kingpin
Even if you have watched Narcos on Netflix, this biography of Pablo Escobar will still make your jaw drop. That TV show, as good as it is, only scratched the surface. Bowden, a newspaper reporter, interviewed dozens of sources, allowing him to piece together Escobar’s remarkable ascent and descent.
The Right Stuff – Tom Wolfe
Best For: Reaching For The Stars
“This book grew out of some ordinary curiosity,” said its author in 1983, four years after it was published. Yet there is nothing ordinary about it. Wolfe wondered what made a man want to sit on top of a giant tube of fuel and be hurtled into space. In the lives of US Navy test pilots and the Mercury astronauts, he found the answers, and with them wrote an all-time great non-fiction book.
The Lost City of Z – David Grann
Best For: Exploring Your Options
One of the reviews called this “the best story in the world, told perfectly” and that’s fair enough, really. In 1925, British explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett went missing in Brazil while searching for a mythical settlement. This book investigates why, and the author embarks on his own Amazonian quest.
Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell
Best For: Secrets Of Success
Gladwell is most well known for The Tipping Point, but this book about what high achievers have in common is a more in-depth and engaging read. A big part of what makes people make it big is the hard yards: doing something for 20 hours a week for a decade, or about 10,000 hours. Start tomorrow? Why not?
Hit Makers – Derek Thompson
Best For: Being In With The In Crowd
If you want to know why Star Wars is so popular, and why nothing ever really goes viral, then Thompson is your man. His study of pop culture’s most beloved items ranges from Game Of Thrones and Taylor Swift to Pokémon Go and Spotify.
Factfulness – Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund
Best For: Rebooting Your World Knowledge
Bill Gates has a website on which he posts book recommendations, and liked this one so much he paid for every US college graduate in 2018 to get the ebook version. You might want to join those four million ex-students and be delighted to have much of what you know about the world put right by fascinating hard facts.
Bad Blood – John Carreyou
Best For: Fraud Or Flawed?
It’s the story of the age: 19-year-old founds a medical start-up; raises $700m on the promise of a blood-testing machine that never really exists; her $10bn company collapses, with $600m of investors’ money gone. Was it just Silicon Valley hot air or a massive, deliberate fraud?
Doughnut Economics – Kate Raworth
Best For: The Future Of Your Money
Experts are divided about Raworth’s ring-shaped model of how economics should be – the flow of money and trade keeping humans and Earth in good shape – but they are all talking about it. She recognises systems and effects, such as climate change and social movements, which standard economics ignore. Her argument is powerful.
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
Best For: First-Person Hilarity
The best of several collections of brilliant essays from the American humourist deals partly with his moving to Normandy in France, and partly with his life before that, in rural America and New York City. One of these every morning on the way to work would banish commuter blues immediately.
How To Lose Friends & Alienate People – Toby Young
Best For: Tragic Tragicomedy
Young is now a right-leaning columnist and social media ‘star’. In a previous life, he got a job on the American magazine Vanity Fair, and dropped the ball spectacularly. Anyone who’s ever felt like a square peg in a workplace round hole (so, that’ll be everyone, then) will find much to laugh at here.
Our Dumb Century – The Onion
Best For: Mocking The Decades
In terms of jokes-that-work-per-page hit rate, this is probably the funniest book in the world. Before social media, The Onion’s parody news site was the funniest thing online (they still do pretty good). This special project magnificently takes the Michael out of news and newspapers from 1900 to 1999. In today’s fake news era, this has become even more hilarious.
Spoiled Brats – Simon Rich
Best For: Eye-Watering Laughs
Rich writes the sort of charming and amusing essays that Steve Martin and Woody Allen used to do, and there are a dozen in this volume. But it’s the novella Sell Out that makes this a must-read. A Brooklyn pickle-maker falls into the brine and is fished out 100 years later, to face the hipsters who have taken over his town. Your correspondent cried with laughter.
I, Partridge – Steve Coogan
Best For: Pitch-Perfect Parody
A spot-on mocking of celebrity autobiography and a celebration of Britain’s best-loved failed chat-show host and digital radio DJ. Even better than reading this with Partridge’s voice in your head is listening to the audiobook, with Coogan-Partridge in absolutely magnificent form.
The Photo Ark – Joel Sartore
Best For: All Creatures Great And Small
As ambitions go, it’s lofty and admirable: take a picture of all 12,000 species living in the world’s wildlife sanctuaries and zoos before an increasing number of them become extinct. As of May 2018, 12 years in, Sartore was two-thirds of the way there. This book covers the first 6,000 species.
Essential Elements – Edward Burtynsky
Best For: Seeing The World Through New Eyes
Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer who uses a large camera to take vast-scale images of our changing planet, from seemingly endless rows of workers in Chinese factories to aerial views of oil fields in California. He makes the sort of images you can spend hours finding new things in.
Greatest Of All Time: A Tribute To Muhammad Ali – various
Best For: Knockout Storytelling
Anyone saying “print is dead” hasn’t encountered this beautiful object, which has collector’s editions at £11,000 and a regular version 110 times cheaper yet almost as powerful. Ali is still sport’s most celebrated story, and the words and pictures on the 652 foot-square pages here tell that tale in the absolute best possible way.
Kenneth Grange: Making Britain Modern – various
Best For: Design Classics, UK Style
A hero of industrial design as good as his more famous peers at Apple or Braun, Grange devised dozens of iconic products including Kodak cameras, Anglepoise lamps, Wilkinson Sword razors, parking meters and the Intercity 125 train. This catalogue of his career is a beautifully designed book full of beautifully designed things.
The Classic Car Book – Giles Chapman
Best For: Four-Wheeled Nirvana
Quite simply a treasure trove of thousands of photos of awesome automobiles from the 1940s to the 1980s, with nerdy spec data and potted histories of cars, marques and makers.