What Ten Books Must All Men Read BeforeThey Die ?


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Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Oct 23, 2009 - 10:35am PT
I think it is always interesting to hear what other people read. I have a good friend who is an avid reader and very well educated. He also travels a lot for work. His reading habits are based on only reading the books on the biggest display in airport book stores. I think he must read three per week. Rarely do we read the same things.

Picking just 10 is really thought provoking.

So, should this list be books that are for fun? To conform to our own customs and beliefs? Or, to get outside ourselves? For my ten, I pick the last category for the combination of two reasons: all of our sense of a broader self is based on what we have read (or seen in a movie or TV adaptation or heard from our parents based on what they have read or from a religious leader based on what she has read). Or more succinctly, our gods are literary characters. Secondly, our personal sense of self is arbitrary: time and place of birth, language and custom; wealth; etc. So to read is to tap into the nature of who we are and at the same time to escape our individual starting places.

Okay, here goes my totally fallacious list told in scholarly tones. (I can do scholarly tones way easier than I can do actual scholarship.) Can you guess which ones I have actually read cover to cover?

1 and 2. The “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” by Homer. Homer provides the first literary (at least to us) sense of mankind before science, philosophy, and monotheism. The stories also have the flow and characteristics of what we expect in a good read. And reading them back-to-back shows the skill of Homer in weaving the two stories together. It is a little startling to discover that 2700 years ago was not so distant. Fagle’s translation with Knox’s introduction (golden) and the pronouncing and proper name appendix (a godsend) is worth every hour spent.

3. The Bible. It is hard to read the Bible without getting stuck in personal religious beliefs. The Bible is only the starting point of Christian belief. In my opinion the best way to move down the path—not part of the ten—is to read Anne Armstrong’s “A History of God.”

4. The Bhagavad-Gita. I don't read Sanskrit, and I don’t have a recommendation for a more or less full translation.

5. The teaching of Buddha. I only have books starting from Zen. Maybe Karen Armstrong’s “Buddha” is the best introduction.

6. Greek plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes. Take your pick or read them all. This is the the beginning of modern Western civilization, dealing with reconcilation of the competing issues of human character, heroism, hubris, science, and self governance. Read as many as you can carry, but only count as one.

7. Dante “The Devine Comedy”. In my opinion, the first send-up of humanity and its relation to God; and perfectly grounded in Catholic dogma. Irony writ large. Turns the light on the Dark Ages. Also provides the updated travel guide to Hell following on from Virgil. It is worth thinking on how Dante managed to pull this off. Ask yourself what a modern version of "The Devine Comedy" would be-everyone known was named and placed in Hell, Purgatory, or Paradise, and Dante named himself as the best poet/writer of all time. Sounded good at the time. This is the only difficult book to read on my list. Unless you are a Catholic and late Middle Ages scholar, the people, places and events (and jokes) are impossible. I think that Dorothy Sayers’ translation is the best place to start since she includes very complete notes. She was a devout Catholic and for her the Devine Comedy is a strictly religious poem, but she still sees the fun and outrageousness of the whole concept. Her notes make it relatively easy going. If my chance you have read "The Name of the Rose" and liked it (I didn't) you would like the real deal wiht Dante. Many of the same historical characters show up in both.

8. Shakespeare's “King Lear”. Shakespeare filled in the whole canvas of defining human character in all of its manifestations and all in five beat lines. All plays and sonnets are worth reading many times.

9. Tolstoy. Take your pick. The modern world (late 19th Century version) is upon us and it is falling apart fast. There are many worthwhile books from the 19th century.

10. One left to cover the last 100 years. I think that is a tough call. There are lots of great novels written in the last 100 years. And many great non-fiction books. Even a few climbing books worth reading. But picking one that will be read in a 1000 years is impossible. This spot has traditionally fallen to James Joyce’s “Ulysses”. For sure this is a great novel, a writerly tour do force, that links back to all the prior literature of western civilization, and it confers great bragging rights on any one who finishes it with the ability to see all those allusions to the history of our literature. (In this sense, “Ulysses” could count for hundreds of books.) But in my opinion, it moved the needle on the writerly novel scale rather than on the seeing-humanness-in-a-new light scale.

So why not something from Beckett, or Graham Greene, or Kafka, or Borges, or Neruda, or Garcia, or Naipaul, or Coetzee, or Faulkner, or McCarthy, or Roth, or Delillo, or Updike, or…, or....

Okay. Time’s up.

So for 10, I pick McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian”. I think it is probably the best American novel, period. But more importantly for the thesis of breaking the arbitrariness of how we see outside ourselves and dealing with how we define and adhere to some sense of civilization, it belongs as a coda to the first nine. It is based on a real story of our history and it ties back through all of literature and human history. If you have read McCarthy’s recent books like ‘The Road” or “No Country for Old Men”, I suggest that you read the first nine books, or at least Homer’s contribution before you read “Blood Meridian.” You will see why.

I just read "White Tiger" by Adiga. I think that this is a modern classic.

Last thought: Read faster or die slower. Too many good things to read and do.

Trad climber
Sh#t Hole, Brooklyn, NY
Oct 23, 2009 - 02:24pm PT
I'll add some stuff useful for men when transitioning from innocence to adulthood:

The Prince, Machiavelli (a glimpse into the world of power and political relationships that form much of the landscape that men will be impacted by)

Nietzsche (pick and choose: to stimulate thought and to discard culturally inherited and debilitating sentimental rubbish and learn about the Will to Power...you know you want it)

Freud (pick and choose: some contact with Freud is useful if only as an introduction to a major paradigm of the modern era and what may influence human behavior...can be applied to any direction from self understanding to hidden persuasion in advertising)

Any decent credible book on Stalin and the Soviet Union (the contemporary model for totalitarianism; it's useful to understand what defines one pole of political organization which has proved extremely adaptable in the modern world).

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer (a splendid historical work of events that shaped the last century: political invention and the rise to power at a high water mark)

Ulysses, James Joyce (how a book transforms into a narcotic for the mind).

Solid book of poetry, many of them out there. Man needs boatloads of sentimental rubbish and beauty to buoy him up, start dosing.

Plenty of good fiction already mentioned, take your pick.

**Books in general are often overrated. I do not think there is any book a man MUST read. I know plenty of men who don't place much stake in reading books...they've managed just fine as men. More important than any book, liberal education, or academics is to know when to STOP reading and start acting.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Oct 23, 2009 - 03:51pm PT
Wow, Roger and I have a pretty similar list. While I didn't specifically identify King Lear, rather some of Shakespeare's plays, if I had to pick one it would be Lear. I wouldn't put Tolstoy in the top ten, although he is one of the great authors. I just think Dostoyevsky is better placed there.

It is interesting what other people read. This thread has kind of drifted from a 'top ten before you die' to 'the last good book I read.'

Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
Oct 23, 2009 - 04:37pm PT
Some books that are good to read early in life, as training. Other books are good to read later in life, when you can twist your mouth into a wry smile as you read words that crystallize what you have lived and felt or struggled to define. I guess the 10 books should somehow be distributed between these.

Even if they were translated, I have a hard time thinking of 10 books that should be read by "All Men," i.e. peoples across all cultures. What I have come to appreciate is how fundamentally different can be the basic beliefs of different people, in terms of prioritizing Truth vs. Happiness (or it's cousin, Being Right vs. Being Happy), what is the meaning of love and how to show it, what is the meaning of respect and how to show it, what is the appropriate relationship and behavior of a person toward his family, friends, and the world at large. There are not many works which probe into truly universal laws to guide humanity or universal insights that explains a large swath of human experience. I think almost by definition, any work that attempts such a broad scope is going to be welcomed by some and roundly rejected by others. The world is just too diverse.

So, with this preamble I sidestep the brain-hurt of trying to find 10 books great for all humanity. Instead I'll pick a few I liked a lot:

 Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
 Man's Search for Meaning
 Life of Pi
 The Sea Around Us (Rachel Carson)
 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

And some important for bridging the gap in understanding between peoples of the world:
 Bhagavat Gita (a subset of a bigger story)

I'm only halfway through it right now, but The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) is pretty awesome for a view into the cultural evolution of the western world through the middle ages into the renaissance. It's good for reflecting on the kaleidoscope of human nature that led to a wide range of religious sects and the bloody power struggles amongst themselves, amongst sectarian governments, and the inter-relationships.

I guess that's 10. Whenever these things come up, I always end up including some of the things I've read most recently.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Oct 23, 2009 - 04:46pm PT
Okay, Dostoevsky has replaced Tolstoy to cover the period from Shakespeare to the post- existentialist (the way I would think of it). Sounds so reasonable, doesn't it?

I think that picking a single work to cover the dawning of individualism and the collapse of the certainty of moral underpinnings is a bit crazy, but the limit of 10 books forces the issue everywhere. This would be fun to do in bar. "I'll trade you "The Odyssey" and "The Divine Comedy: Paradise" for a spot for Dostoevsky and Tolstoy with Gogol's "The Overcoat" thrown in. This was countered by "You can keep either Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, but not both, to make room for Dickens." Followed by another round bought by the guy who wants four spots for John Grisham (fun reads).


Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
Oct 23, 2009 - 04:54pm PT
Reading this thread after offering my own post, reliving good memories of reading some and yearnings to read others.

Life is too short. I find it hard to embrace that I can't absorb it all, that I must make choices and be at peace with the little slices of our world and knowledge that I can experience. But I think deeper happiness lies in accepting this reality, just another dimension of enjoying the half-full part of the glass.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Oct 23, 2009 - 07:44pm PT
I've read both the Overcoat and the Nose, by Gogol, and Notes from the Underground, Krokodil, and White nights by Dostoyevskii; all the in original Russian. A lifetime's worth of material from any of them. But my money's on Fyodor!

Trad climber
Oct 23, 2009 - 08:29pm PT
I remember a couple years back you were looking for a book, or info, to help you evaluate what authors were trying to do. I think you had just read a book and were wondering what the guy was trying to say, or you had a question about how he was trying to say it. I can't remember which. Did you find a book or books that addressed your questions? If so what where they, both the book(s) and your questions?

Oct 23, 2009 - 08:56pm PT
I didn't wade through this whole thread carefully so I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. This is one of the greatest novels I've ever read and also contemporary and extremely funny.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Oct 23, 2009 - 09:07pm PT
Kevin F, did you make it all the way through, 'The infinite Jest'? You may be the only one. Do you know of any others?. Have you read that trilogy that Neal Stephanson had to write, after he should have retired after, 'Snaowcrash'? Was that worthwhile? What have I missed? I need the Clif notes. No way I have enough life minutes left to slog through those....

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Oct 23, 2009 - 09:09pm PT
Pratt's dream job was for someone to pay him $5.00 per hour to read the books of his choice.

Oct 23, 2009 - 09:13pm PT
IJ is worth the trouble Jay. I read it twice this year. It's like a Ulysses for our time and place.

Boulder climber
san diego
Oct 23, 2009 - 10:04pm PT
Lolita merits a position.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Oct 23, 2009 - 10:20pm PT
Hey Nutjob. . .
I've still got my copy of The Sea Around Us

Big Wall climber
San Luis Obispo CA
Oct 23, 2009 - 10:29pm PT
I'm too lazy to read books . . . .

Full Metal Jacket
Le Mans
Dawn of the Dead (1978 version)
True Grit
The French Connection
New York Stories
Citizen Kane
Dogtown and Z-Boys
Barry Lyndon

But, if I must list +/- 10 good books that have changed my mind for the better:

Fountainhead / Atlas Shrugged / Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology - Rand
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail - Thompson
The Old Man and the Sea - Hemingway
On the Trail of the Assassins - Garrison
Steal This Book - Hoffman
Chaos: Making a New Science - Gleik
Emerging Form in Architecture: Conversations with Lev Zetlin - Wilson
Elementary Statics of Shells - Pfluger
Art Through The Ages - Gardner
The Prince- Machiavelli
Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica - Newton
The Meaning of Relativity - Einstein
Brave New World - Huxley
The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary - Seuss

A book can have good influence, even way, way, way back then.

Mountain climber
San Diego
Oct 23, 2009 - 11:51pm PT
Great mentions so far, but I would also include:

1) The Holy Bible (Authorized King James Version)

2) The Book of Enoch

3) George Orwell's 1984

4) Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

5) Crossing the Rubicon by Michael Ruppert

6) The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush
Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin and Richard Falk (and
any of the other many great scholarly books he has written on 9-11
being an inside job)

7) Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA
By Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara

8) The Yosemite by John Muir (or any of Muir's original classic books)

9) The Ascent of the Matterhorn by Edward Whimper

10) High and Wild by Galen Rowell

11) (my list goes to eleven!, one number more, and just that much more loud, lol) Not to mention thousands and thousands of other great reads . . .


Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Oct 24, 2009 - 05:01am PT
Thanks, Fosburg, I will give it another go.

Trad climber
pacific beach, ca
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 24, 2009 - 11:33am PT
Credit: zip

A Climber's Guide To Joshua Tree National Monument

John Wolfe And Bob Dominick

This is a must read for anyone that plans on spending any amount of time there.

This was my second guide book i purchased for this area. The first one was the yellow book, which i can't find. Anyone remember that one?

Good pictures, and route descriptions. First ascent info, and great stories too.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Oct 26, 2009 - 02:03pm PT
Zander, I did find the answer to my question that you rose up thread. That thread Way off topic question on literature April 2008 had lots of good posts. Many along the same lines as this thread.

The question I asked was about any sources on literary criticism for Roth's novels. I had just finished "American Pastoral" and was very put off by what I considered sloppy writing and placid storytelling. What got my goat were Roth’s whole paragraphs of essentially the same sentence with different endings. I found a short section in "How Novels Work" by John Mullen on Roth's technique of amplification, which apparently links back to renaissance writing methods. I found it very tiresome and skimmed to the bottom on any paragraph in which he couldn't get what he wanted to say out without repeating it ten times. I think that this probably works fine for a reader who just loves the way all those letters form little groups of and pass time until they are needed in another little group of letters somewhere later, and they sound so sensuous as they roll down with the spittle and drool. More seriously, I think it works okay if the reader cares about the character, or if the writer has a real rant going with momentum. I didn't feel any of those things about "American Pastoral," so the amplification just seemed like ballast.

That said, there is a good interview in last Friday's WSJ ‘Weekend Journal’ with a list of five of Roth's 'indispensable' books to read by Ross Miller, the general editor of his compelte works for the Library of America. The list includes "The Ghost Writer," "The Counterlife," "The Facts," "Sabbath's Theater," and "The Human Stain." I will read these over time. I figure if I don't like a major writer, I should at least fire live.

Back in time..
Oct 26, 2009 - 02:48pm PT
This is a great book my mom would reed it to me in 1965 I loved reeding it to my kids, I just took them to see the new motion picture, what a blast!

Credit: Fogarty

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