10 Books Every Modern Gentleman Should Read

A gentleman is a lot of things, but there is one aspect that is rarely discussed but equally important: being well-read. This not only applies to keeping up to date in a man's chosen field but also reading for pleasure. We start the list with 10 essential books for the modern gentleman.

Quickly think of the man you most admire…go on, picture him in your mind.  If you are reading this article, chances are the gentleman that you imagined is cultured, educated, thoughtful, and sophisticated.  Chances also are that this gentleman didn’t get those traits from watching tv or playing video games.  Books are a central conduit through which these admirable traits are developed, which is why we, the original forgetful gentlemen, have assembled this list of “must read books” to help you on your quest of becoming a modern gentleman in today’s busy, digital world.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

In our opinion, the best book ever written.   You will not want to put this book down even at 1,400+ pages.  You’ll see the best and worst sides of a brilliant, cunning man.  From rags to riches and back again, it’ll leave you wanting another 1,000 pages.

Gentleman ranking: 7

Manliness ranking: 10 (it’ll put hair on your chest)

On Amazon

On Project Gutenberg

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

Perhaps the best war book written this generation, you’ll journey into Iraq with the 2-16 Battalion.  It’s an emotional roller coaster that’ll leave you asking big bold questions about our country, our citizens and our soldiers.  Most importantly, you’ll get an inside glimpse of what our soldiers go through on a day to day basis.  You’ll cry, you’ll laugh, and you may punch a new hole in the wall.  How the soldiers can return to a normal life afterward shows how incredible these men are.

Gentleman ranking: 5

Manliness ranking: 10

On Amazon

Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger

Unlike the TV show bearing its name, you won’t find Coach Taylor, Tim Riggins or Lyla Garrity (although we’re glad she’s in the TV show!) in this book.  Rather, you’ll find a story that is part documentary and part social commentary in what has, over time, become one of the best coming of age stories of the last thirty years.  It will make any man appreciate the mystique, curiosity, and nostalgia of high school sports, as well as the absurdity of Texas high school football.

Gentleman ranking: 3

Manliness ranking: 6

On Amazon

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

If real men never ask for directions, they certainly don’t read self-help books… unless they are as cleverly disguised as Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”.  It is a book that will make you analyze your instinctive reactions and split-second decisions.  It’ll make you think twice about how you think and process information.  What you’ll learn is that many “hunches” or “spine-tingles” can be more accurate than months of research when they come from qualified sources… and what man doesn’t want his hunches to prove correct?

Gentleman ranking: 6

Manliness ranking: 2

On Amazon

John Adams by David McCullough

Now immortalized by the HBO mini-series, this book is historical literature at its finest. McCullough provides incredible perspective into an oft-overshadowed political figure who was every bit the equal of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.  In fact, a gentleman can learn a lot from Mr. Adams for, unlike his pal, Mr. Jefferson (slave owner, womanizer, hedonist and, ultimately, mega-debtor), Mr. Adams was NOT conflicted. It is a story of intelligence, passion, romance, adventure and patriotism, and more than anything it is the story of a real man.  He was a gentleman of the first order.

Gentleman ranking: 10

Manliness ranking: 7

On Amazon

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The book alternates chapters between the magnificent architecture and politics of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and the villainous scheming and murdering of H.H. Holmes in the “Murder Castle.”  It was a formative and often over-looked period in America’s history, when newly built sky scrapers sat in the backdrop of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, when heavy industrialists brought rise to our first environmentalists, and America, spurred by innovations such as PBR and the Ferris Wheel, began its rise as a world power.  Erik Larson’s page-turner is a historical murder mystery that is all the more captivating because it’s a work of non-fiction.

Gentleman ranking: 5

Manliness ranking: 7

On Amazon

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

With a critically-acclaimed movie, multiple books and a Congressional hearing, we all know the story of Pat Tillman as someone who turned down millions of dollars in the NFL to serve his country in Afghanistan.  What makes Krakauer’s account so compelling is that it goes inside the complicated, emotionally charged and sometimes contradictory forces of patriotism, honor, intellectual curiosity and justice that drove Pat Tillman.

Here is one of my favorite passages of all time:

The concept of the Ubermensch is an exemplary, transcendent figure.  The Ubermensch is virtuous, loyal, ambitious and outspoken, disdainful of religious dogma and suspicious of received wisdom, intensely engaged in the hurly-burly of the real world.  Above all he is passionate – a connoisseur of both “the highest joys” and “the deepest sorrows.”  He believes in the moral imperative to defend (with his life, if necessary) ideals such as truth, beauty, honor, and justice.  He is self-assured.  He is a risk taker.  He regards suffering as salutary, and scorns the path of least resistance.”

In today’s world of uncertainty and ambiguity, this is a must-read book.

Gentleman ranking: 8

Manliness ranking: 9

On Amazon

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Few book quotes or titles have penetrated the common vernacular like the phrase ‘Catch-22’, and few books have managed to dance the tightrope of satire, philosophical rambling and comedy quite like Joseph Heller’s masterpiece. If you like to think and laugh at the same time, you are a man who will love ‘Catch-22’.

Gentleman ranking: 3

Manliness ranking: 3

On Amazon

The Bourne Identity (Trilogy) by Robert Ludlum

The character that reached James Bond-level status in today’s generation is even more compelling in Robert Ludlum’s trilogy.  Is Jason Bourne an ethical patriot or international menace?  With a deeper plot, more compelling characters, and smoother story telling than the movies could ever offer (even if they were still bad ass!), the books are must-read.

Gentleman ranking: 6

Manliness ranking: 10

On Amazon

The Odyssey by Homer

The epic journey is a theme close to the essence of manhood, and there is no journey more epic or wrought with trials, revenge, destitution and perseverance than Odysseus’ galumph across the ancient Mediterranean.

Gentleman ranking: 7

Manliness ranking: 8

On Amazon

On Project Gutenberg

Honorable Mention

The following books didn’t make the cut into the top 10, but every modern gentleman should read these as well:

History: Flyboys, Founding Fathers, Confederates in the Attic, Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World, 1421: The Year China Discovered America, The Killer Angels

Politics/Philosophy: Game Change, The Rights of Man, Walden, The Abolition of Man, The Art of War

Self-Improvement: How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Richest Man in Babylon, Emily Post Etiquette Guide, Linchpin, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

American Literature: Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby, Atlas Shrugged, The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, The Stand

Classics: 1984, Les Miserable, The Brothers Karamazov, A Tale of Two Cities

Spirituality: Mere Christianity, The Elegant Universe

Sports/Adventure: My Losing Season, When Pride Still Mattered: Vince Lombardi, The Book of Basketball, Into Thin Air, Into the Wile

Science Fiction: Starship Troopers, The Lord of the Rings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Series), Ender’s Game

Nate Tan and Brett Nicol, b-school buddies and self titled “original forgetful gentlemen,” founded Forgetful Gentleman, www.forgetfulgentleman.com, in Charlottesville, VA in January 2009. With the goal of making it easier for the busy, modern man to be a gentleman, Forgetful Gentleman’s innovative products have been recognized by NBC, Businessweek, Thrillist, Cool Material and the National Stationer’s Guild.


  • Reply February 28, 2011


    Nice list – Catch 22 is one of my favorites. Have you seen http://www.7bks.com/ might be a helpful resource for you.

  • Reply February 28, 2011

    Seth Baxter

    Kudos for including Mere Christianity on the HM list, a fantastic and challenging lead.

  • Reply February 28, 2011

    Jim Bouchard

    GREAT list…but I’m going to add: Zorba the Greek! This is the manual for living a fulfilling, adventurous life!

    Best thoughts!

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    Not a bad list by any means, but I am absolutely shocked you didn’t include Hemingway on here, even as an honorable mention. Quintessential manly writer.

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    The Great Gatsby, America’s finest novel, is an honorable mention! Did I misplace a month? Is it April Fools’ Day?

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    Nice list. However, in my opinion, Blink should not have made to the list. The case for the importance of snap decisions was made in an entirely unscientific method. Gladwell relied too much on anecdotal evidence from which little, if anything at all, can be concluded about the principle’s general applicability.

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    This is a really good list; I’ve read more than a handful of the top ten/honorable mentions and liked every one of them.

    Now you just need to come up with the ten tv shows every gentleman should watch and the ten video games every gentleman should play.

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    The Odyssey was a classic. I remember watching the NBC version a few years back and it just didn’t do it any justice. Awesome list overall!

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    Nice list, first few are great selections especially! will definitely have to take up some of your suggestions.
    I’ve gotta say I disagree with your recommendation of The Bourne Identity – I struggled through it (the first in the trilogy) and found it very poorly written, but of course I respect your opinion!


  • Reply February 28, 2011


    Nice list. I would say, if you were to read Starship Troopers, also read The Forever War. Both books take a different view on the military and war and offer a nice counterpoint to each other.

  • Reply February 28, 2011

    Wayne Grantham

    I agree with Justin on _Starship Troopers_/_The Forever War_, but if any list of greats books is to have any credibility, it has to include Ayn Rand’s _Atlas Shrugged_.

  • Hey Guys – thanks for all your comments and feedback. I’ve added Zorba the Greek and The Forever War to my reading list. I love the idea of putting together other top ten lists for tv shows, video games, etc. These lists will be helpful references and, at the very least, good debate material.

    Not having any Hemingway on the list is a painful omission. It’s kind of like leaving your closer in the bullpen during the 9th inning of a one run game.

  • Reply March 2, 2011


    Self Improvement = The Winners Manual (for the game of life) by Jim Tressel a shortened version of what the Ohio State Football team gets every year from the “sweater vest”

    Fiction = The Godfather by Mario Puzo – need I say anything else?

    Pulitzer winner = A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – his Mom spent 15+ years trying to get this awesome book published after her son killed himself

  • Reply March 2, 2011


    Great call on giving an honorable mention to Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World.

    As the Washington Post eloquently put it, “Genghis Khan was a doer.” After all, the Mongol army conquered more land and people in 25 years than the Romans conquered in 400 years.

  • Reply April 3, 2011


    One book you forgot is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I read it in English Literature my senior year in high school, and that struck me as one of the greatest works of art humanity has to offer. It was Joyce’s first novel, and was one of the books that totally redefined the novel in terms of structure and format. Also a great author would be Robert A. Heinlein, who wrote Starship troopers as previously mentioned, but also wrote masterpieces such as: Stranger in A Strange Land, The Cat Who Walks through Walls, Methuselah’s Children, etc. Heinlein showed us a truly heroic ideal in his characterization of quiet heroism.

  • Reply March 5, 2012


    Nice list. Way to include Ender’s Game (which is way more than just science fiction), Atlas Shrugged, 1984 and How To Win Friends (required reading for any person, especially the gentleman).

  • Reply April 13, 2012


    Terrific list! I might add some more biographies – Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson etc

  • Reply February 28, 2013

    Mehdi K Ashtari

    I found a much better list here. These books should be compulsory reading in schools. 

  • Reply March 21, 2014

    Scott Davis

    Great list! I’d add In the Heart of the Sea and In Harm’s Way – both great historical books.

  • […] ’10 Books Every Gentleman should Read’ by Primer […]

  • Reply February 1, 2016

    Jim in USA

    Captains Courageous and Theodore Rex are two reads that should be on more lists.

  • Reply July 4, 2018

    Robert Farrell

    It helps to be male and white, doesn’t it?

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