Books have been a key pillar in my growth and healing journey over the past 10 years. There truly is no more impactful way of absorbing a lifetime of wisdom from a human being than reading their book.
The following are 26+ of the most important books I have read on my path to become a better man, partner, and father. They are roughly organized by importance to my journey, but I’ve included short overviews of each to help you decide which one(s) to pick up.
Each book contains an affiliate link to Amazon, at no additional cost to you.
Sexuality, Relationship, Masculinity
Unbelievable. I read it 3 times in a row when I first found it. Ideas of masculinity vs femininity energetically are life changing, relationship changing, and ring inherently true when you put them into practice. It helps to clarify how other people operate in relationship, and how you can become truly the man of her dreams and create both safety and extremely charged sexual energy in a relationship.
Stop waiting. Feel everything. Love achingly. Give impeccably. Let go.
Shame, Inner-Work, Self-Acceptance, Healing.
One of the first books I read that explained why I might be feeling the way I was feeling, and that it wasn’t my fault. It explained my family roles, the toxic shame that I felt and that wasn’t mine to embody, and gave a wide variety of practices to heal from this shame.
Toxically shamed people tend to become more and more stagnant as life goes on. They live in a guarded, secretive and defensive way. They try to be more than human (perfect and controlling) or less than human (losing interest in life or stagnated in some addictive behavior).
Boundaries, Needs, Relationship, Self-Worth, Perfectionism
This is a classic for a reason. It outlines how men often try to be the “nice guy” because they think if only they can please other people, they’ll finally be liked and validated and feel like they’re enough. The shadow side of this behaviour is that we expect things from people, we don’t set boundaries, and we don’t get our actual needs met. As a perfectionist, and someone who assumed the responsibility for everyone else’s emotions my whole life, I got a lot out of this book. It helped me see that what I was doing was actually reacting to childhood traumas/conditioning, that I wasn’t likely to get my needs met, and that I was doing my authentic self a great disservice by trying to be a “Nice Guy”.
The working paradigm of the Nice Guy is this: IF I can hide my flaws and become what I think others want me to be…THEN I will be loved, get my needs met, and have a problem-free life.
Spirituality, Mindfulness, Awareness
A beautiful, short, profound read that mixes “Christian spirituality, Buddhist parables, Hindu breathing exercises, and psychological insight”. It touches on something truly fundamental and “beyond religion” into what I consider spirituality. Each page seemingly contains a mind-blowing insight that is both simple to understand but almost impossible to have truly understood without a master like De Mello guiding the way.
Do you know what eternal life is? You think it’s everlasting life. But your own theologians will tell you that that is crazy, because everlasting is still within time. It is time perduring forever. Eternal means timeless—no time. The human mind cannot understand that. The human mind can understand time and can deny time. What is timeless is beyond our comprehension. Yet the mystics tell us that eternity is right now. How’s that for good news? It is right now.
Spirituality, Masculinity, Initiation
This book really surprised me and impacted me deeply. There is a depth and solidity to what Eldredge writes that stirred something primal within me. It is a call to be more will, as we are naturally meant to be. It offers insights into what boys and girls truly need from their fathers…and how that impacts you as a grown boy today. This should be required reading for all parents. The author speaks of the Christian God regularly, and while I am not a Christian or religious person, I found that what he wrote rang true even if your experience with spirituality is more present-moment, cosmic, or nature-based.
Instead of asking what you think you ought to do to become a better man (or woman, for my female readers), I want to ask, What makes you come alive? What stirs your heart?
Productivity, Existentialism, Time Management, Meaning, Slowing Down
This might be higher on the list than is warranted due to recency bias, but I absolutely loved this book. For someone who has been obsessed with productivity, time management, “hustle culture” and has suffered the anxiety, worry, and fear that all of this brings, it was a relief to read. In my last year of slowing down, figuring out what is truly important, and reevaluating my role in the world throughout this tumultuous couple of years surrounding the fear on both “sides” about the pandemic, I have come to understand that the fast-paced, digital, instant gratitifaction world we live in is not where I should be trying to find value. I believe everyone should read this in a bid to get closer to a lifestyle our ancestors (and physiology) would have been more used to.
Denying reality never works, though. It may provide some immediate relief, because it allows you to go on thinking that at some point in the future you might, at last, feel totally in control. But it can’t ever bring the sense that you’re doing enough—that you are enough—because it defines “enough” as a kind of limitless control that no human can attain.
Parenting, Secure Attachment
This is perhaps the most important book I have read on parenting. It outlines the extreme importance of developing Secure Attachment with our children, the consequences of not doing so, and how to actually develop this attachment. Dr. Siegel also has a book on the teenage brain that I recommend to parents of older children, but if you could only read one book this year on parenting, make it this one.
“Four S’s”—helping kids feel (1) safe—they feel protected and sheltered from harm; (2) seen—they know you care about them and pay attention to them; (3) soothed—they know you’ll be there for them when they’re hurting; and (4) secure—based on the other S’s, they trust you to predictably help them feel “at home” in the world, then learn to help themselves feel safe, seen, and soothed.
Communication, Compassion, Conflict Resolution
One of the most important books in learning how to communicate more effectively. If everyone used the NVC formula, the world would be a peaceful place. I appreciate the mindful nature of the process, which includes observation, a recognition of your own feelings and needs, and a respectful request to get what you want in a way that makes it easy for the other party to understand and honour.
“NVC pill” in order to restate its message in the following form: “When a, I feel b, because I am needing c. Therefore I now would like d.”
Communication, Compassion, Mindfulness, Awareness
Thich Naht Hanh is a wonderful Buddhist teacher, and in this book he outlines a compassionate approach to communication that pairs well with Nonviolent Communication. I love his suggestion to approach each conversation with the goal of “reducing suffering”.
When you see the suffering inside yourself, you can see the suffering in the other person, and you can see your part, your responsibility, in creating the suffering in yourself and in the other person.
Parenting, Emotional Intelligence
This is another must-read on parenting. Gottman outlines how to raise a child who is emotionally intelligent by giving us the steps to “emotion coach” our children through all sorts of situations. He shows us why this is so important for a child and the adult he or she will grow to be, and you will end up learning a lot about yourself, your childhood, and your emotional capacity in the process.
Not just any dad will do. Children’s lives are greatly enhanced by fathers who are emotionally present, validating, able to offer comfort in times of distress. By the same token, children can be deeply harmed by fathers who are abusive, highly critical, humiliating, or emotionally cold.
Men’s Work, Masculinity, Initiation
This is one of the most important books on men’s work, masculinity, and the mythopoetic men’s movement, and will help you deepen your understanding of who you are, how to mature as a man, and how to heal and find an initiatory experience to take you fully into adulthood. You will find your inner wild man, and learn to turn your deepest wound into gold.
Eventually a man needs to throw off all indoctrination and begin to discover for himself what the father is and what masculinity is. For that task, ancient stories are a good help, because they are free of modern psychological prejudices, because they have endured the scrutiny of generations of women and men, and because they give both the light and dark sides of manhood, the admirable and the dangerous.
Men’s Work, Archetypes, Masculinity, Healing, Shadow Work
KWML is an important read for all men interested in going deeper into their own psyches and become more whole and authentic men. Archetypes play a vital role in leading us to areas that need bolstering in our lives, and help to outline ways in which our shadow is present and running the show, usually to great detriment in our lives. Must-read for anyone interested in men’s groups, healing, and growth.
We, like the duckling that mistakes a cat for its mother, mistake our actual parents for the ideal patterns and potentials within us.
Another book by Buddhist teacher Thich Naht Hanh, this one focuses on anger…a huge problem for many of the dads I talk to. I do not necessarily agree with everything in this book, because I believe anger often needs to be expressed in a healthy way that moves the energy and emotion up and out of the body, but this book provides tools and insights that allow you to consider how much of this energy you truly need to move. I do, however, love his suggestion to care for your anger like you would a baby. Be gentle with it, love it, care for it.
If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.
Parenting, Empathy, Emotions
Janet Lansbury is directly responsible for saving me as a parent when things felt completely lost. I was miserable and acting like a pretty bad dad, but the reaction that would elicit from my children would overwhelm me completely. From yelling to hitting to not staying in bed at night, I felt like I had completely ruined them and their reactions put me deeper into a hole of despair. One day I Googled something like “how to get your 4 year old to stop hitting”, and I found Janet’s blog and RIE Parenting. It was gentle but set boundaries, it treated children like the full-blown humans they were, and it just felt so different that I had at least a shred of hope that it would work. After a couple weeks of adopting and applying the lessons as best as my nervous system would allow, the kids were responding beautifully. It’s not about tricking them into doing things, it’s about genuinely connecting with them and allowing them space to have emotions without shaming them, and then working through anything that comes up by co-regulating and affirming with empathy.
A toddler acting out is not shameful, nor is it behavior that needs punishing. It’s a cry for attention, a shout-out for sleep, or a call to action for firmer, more consistent limits. It is the push-pull of your toddler testing his burgeoning independence. He has the overwhelming impulse to step out of bounds, while also desperately needing to know he is securely reined in.
Life, Purpose, Leadership, Spirituality
This is a short novel, but it impacted me tremendously. Specifically, I decided after reading this book to not commit to any more workshops, courses, or hiring teachers, and instead to trust myself as teacher. It is both terrifying to put so much trust in yourself, but also elevated my abilities as a leader in my own life, because I had to finally own everything. I stopped relying on other people’s systems and tactics, which I used in the past as a safety net, but which actually kept me thinking small, afraid of failure. It allowed me to take full responsibility for myself, while guarding against arrogance, and genuinely building curiosity and thinking deeply about the way I observe and live my life.
Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it
Conflict Resolution, Relationships
I hate conflict. While reading the books above on communication have helped, and becoming more confident in myself, my boundaries, and my compassion have made conflict bearable, I still felt like I was at a severe disadvantage whenever something would happen that caused a rift or conflict…especially among those closest to me. Thoughts about being abandoned entered my head from childhood, I held on too tightly in order to protect myself, and ended up not honouring my true needs, or repressing things in order to avoid conflict altogether. Jayson Gaddis delivers a variety of tools AND background that helped explain my aversion to conflict – the one-two combo that I appreciate most in books like this. Pick this up to learn how to communicate better in high-stakes relationships.
When you avoid an outer conflict with another person, you create an inner conflict with yourself.
Meaning, Purpose, Resiliency
This is a powerful book that will help you find meaning in your suffering. Frankl believes that our primary drive in life is to discover and pursue what we find meaningful, and he shares his own example of how doing this in the hellish confines of a Nazi concentration camp helped to keep him alive. Very inspiring, especially if you are feeling apathetic or broken.
Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.
Spirituality, Meditation, Mindfulness
This is one of those books that expands your worldview. I often use Sam’s Waking Up App to meditate, so I wanted to learn more about his point of view, as his meditations were different than many I had previously heard. I learned of nonduality and the worldview it creates, as well as a well-defined view of spirituality beyond religion, which seemed like a missing piece in my life.
In my view, the realistic goal to be attained through spiritual practice is not some permanent state of enlightenment that admits of no further efforts but a capacity to be free in this moment, in the midst of whatever is happening.
Relationship, Intimacy, Sex
The subtitle of this book is, “Activate 7 Masculine Powers to Arouse Your Woman’s Love & Desire”. It pairs very well with The Way of the Superior Man, recommended above. From the viewpoint of polarity, Karen Brody infuses 7 archetypes that men can use to sharpen themselves as men, but specifically as lovers and intimate partners. This type of self-awareness and emotional skill significantly improved my own marriage, and was so impactful that I’ve recommended it to every man in my men’s groups, and even had Karen on the podcast.
A woman’s feminine essence is very much like a river, flowing and unpredictable; this you know. It might be the very thing that terrifies you about women and loving them – this wild uncertainty. What you may not know is that a river needs riverbanks; it needs to be contained. Without riverbanks, the river isn’t a river at all; it’s simply a flood. The banks of the river offer support and a carriage. A man’s masculine energy can be very much like the riverbanks for a woman, a source of solid, uncompromising support. Together the river and the riverbanks are a balanced force, equally powerful and equally necessary.
I can’t remember why I picked this book up, but it struck a deep chord with me. It immediately deepened my appreciation and worship of nature, and my part thereof. It was yet another perspective that pointed to a similar set of spiritual truths that you can find around the world, especially in nature-based or mystic spiritual communities. Nature can hold so much for us, if we let it, and offers so much, that it is worth picking this book up to deepen your relationship with nature, find spirituality, and be awe-inspired by the universe.
We live by letting go, not by holding on.
The Lover Archetype, Living Full-Out
An unusual book to include on a list like this to be sure, but I cried at the end of Zorba the Greek, not because of anything that had happened, but because I was going to miss and grieve my short relationship with Zorba. Have you ever had this happen? Perhaps after reading a wonderful series of books in a short time frame? He is imperfect and certainly not one to model your life after in any responsible way, but the character showed me another side of life that I was so opposite to that I never would have known existed without seeing it in action in this book. Zorba’s curiosity, his almost child-like beginner’s mind, his Lover energy is inspiring, beautiful, and tragic. If nothing else, this may introduce you to dormant emotions.
…envying Zorba’s pain—the pain of a person with warm blood and firm bones who sheds large, true tears when he sorrows and does not winnow his pleasure by passing it through a fine metaphysical sieve when he rejoices.
Breathwork, Nervous System
This is the definitive guide to breathwork and how to use it as a spiritual, emotional, and physical healing and performance tool. The breath is perhaps the most potent tool we have at our disposal and it’s free, readily available, and requires little preparation to use effectively. Dan Brule shares a ton of different breathwork techniques and tells us exactly what they’re useful for. If you’re interested in learning more about Conscious Connected Breathwork that can open up non-ordinary states of consciousness for healing and growth, contact me.
If you need to control yourself—your mind, body, emotions, posture, or behavior—then start by getting control of your breathing.
Abandonment, Healing, Inner Child
While this book is generally addressed to people who have an abandonment wound from an intimate relationship that didn’t work out, I used this book to understand and heal my perceived abandonment from childhood. There are steps in the process that help you understand you are not going crazy, as well as some profound inner child journaling prompts. Inner child work is some of the most healing, but difficult work anyone can do, so for that reason alone I’d recommend this book.
Abandonment is our first fear. It is a primal fear—a fear universal to the human experience. As infants we lay screaming in our cribs, terrified that when our mothers left the room they were never coming back. Abandonment is a fear that we will be left alone forever with no one to protect us, to see to our most urgent needs. For the infant, maintaining attachment to its primary caretaker is necessary for its survival. Any threat or disruption to that relationship arouses this primal fear, a fear that is embedded in the hardware of our brains, a fear we carry into adulthood.
I’m not hugely into Stoicism, but it’s hard to argue with the lessons the Stoics left us. I’d also recommend Ryan Holiday’s books The Obstacle Is The Way and Ego Is The Enemy if you are interested in this. Meditations is easy to pick up every day to be reminded of an “obvious” but not always accessible truth. This will help you better deal with obstacles that come up in a way that is grounded, present, and filled with gratitude, rather than complaint.
You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Fatherhood, Meaning, Fear
In the notes I made after reading this, I called it a “terrifying but horribly powerful book”. There are so many lessons and so much meaning you can draw from this book if you sit with it and study it. But above all, this book covers the relationship between a man and his son, amidst a background of a broken world. I can’t adequately explain it without a massive separate post. Read this, if you dare.
People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didnt believe in that. Tomorrow wasnt getting ready for them. It didnt even know they were there.
26. Epic/Adventure/Classic Novels Read With Your Children
I have purposely read epics with my oldest son, in order to challenge him and expand his understanding of the world. Our favourite is Homer’s Odyssey. Not only is it an exciting read, but we discovered and discussed lessons on being a man. Things like courage, perseverance, cunning, strength, respect, leadership, doing good, and being with other men. Some other ideas include Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa.
This page was last updated on March 14, 2022. I will continue to add books when I come across something especially impactful.