If the twentieth century gave us Hemingway, Kerouac, and Salinger, the twenty-first has brought us no shortage of literary geniuses to help keep the boredom at bay by filling our heads with flights of fantasy and intrigue. Someone once said that a man is only as good as the books he reads. Take that into account the next time you reach for your iPhone to scroll through Instagram for the nth time.
Here’s our list of 17 essential man reads from the 21st century:
1) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
Considered Chabon’s magnum opus, the story centers on two cousins and boy geniuses who work on a comic together on the cusp of the golden age of comic books. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is one of the defining novels of the 21st century.
2) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
A bold and deeply moving family drama that explores the flawed relationships and difficult choices people have to make throughout their life, and the strides one must take to overcome them. Heartbreakingly funny, it’s the novel that put Jonathan Franzen on the literary map.
3) Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut novel is about a man of the same name who sets out to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during World War II. Accompanied by Alex, his Ukrainian interpreter, Alex’s grandfather (also named Alex) and his “seeing eye bitch” Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. , Jonathan navigates Ukraine encountering a bevy of quirky characters while confronting his past.
4) The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (2003)
Lethem’s novel revolves around Dylan and his experiences growing up white and motherless in a pre-dominantly black Brooklyn. It’s a moving meditation on race, class, friendship, loyalty, and time that spans three decades and offers an honest reflection of the gentrification of modern-day Brooklyn.
5) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)
A groundbreaking novel that weaves multiple stories that span time and space into one dizzying account of the human spirit and the transformative power of love. Cloud Atlas proves that David Mitchell is in a league all his own.
6) Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (2005)
Turning conventional wisdom on its head, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner explore the riddles of everyday life and question everything from whether parents matter in how a person turns out to sports. It’s a provocative read that any self-respecting thinking man should read.
7) The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
A novel about a father and son’s journey as they fight to survive a scorched and post-apocalyptic America and its gangs of lawless scavengers.
8) The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
Like many great stories, this novel is about love, or at least the pursuit of it. Oscar, the novel’s titular character, is no Casanova; a self-described overweight ‘ghetto nerd’, Oscar dreams of one day becoming a famous fantasy novelist. Diaz is our generation’s Kerouac: completely irreverent but with a heartbeat that comes straight out of the book’s pages.
9) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)
A thought-provoking and exhaustively researched jaunt into what defines success while taking apart the bits and bobs behind the world’s most fascinating success stories. Gladwell questions what most people wouldn’t think to, then answers them with detailed research and interpretations that only Gladwell is capable of.
10) The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (2009)
When British explorer Percy Fawcett failed to return from his journey into the Amazon jungle to search for a fabled civilization, it became one of the twentieth century’s greatest mysteries. David Grann attempts to piece together what exactly happened to Fawcett through his own epic journey into the Amazon.
11) The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (2010)
A look into the US’s housing bubble in the 2000s and what caused it. If you thought you distrusted bankers now, wait until you read this. A departure from Lewis’s usually sports-centered novels, The Big Short gives the late oughts’ financial cynicism a name.
12) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
A mix of 1980s nostalgia and Black Mirror cynicism, Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future where society lives in a virtual world called OASIS. Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg.
13) Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (2012)
A satire set in Texas during the height of the war in Iraq, the novel explores the sobering disconnect between the country’s war efforts and the people who go abroad to fight it, with the ambivalence of citizens and those unburdened by war.
14) Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders (2013)
Tenth of December is a collection of short stories from the inimitable George Saunders, one of the greatest living writers of our time.
15) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
A stunningly written novel about a blind French girl and a German boy who are brought together as they fight to survive war-torn Europe during World War II.
16) Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari (2015)
An in-depth exploration into the perks and pitfalls of modern-day romance and all its trappings, whether it’s striking out on Tinder or deciphering cryptic but cute-as-hell emoji-filled text messages, Aziz knows and, most importantly, understands your pain. For anyone who’s had to navigate the tricky world of online dating, Modern Romance is a must-read.
17) I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (2016)
An exploration into the literal multitudes that live within us, or the microbes inside us that keep us healthy and ticking. While it might be a little creepy to think that we’re never truly alone, you can’t help but admit it’s a little comforting too.
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Spoilers ahead—read at your own risk