16 Books To Give Your Brother This Holiday Season

Ask any of the fellows in my family — I am kind of terrible at buying holiday gifts for guys. Generic sports paraphilia, amusing (see: awkwardly-patterned) socks and undies, video games for gaming systems they don’t actually own, gourmet preserved meats they don’t actually eat, memberships to a mustards-of-the-world club — I’ve tried (and generally failed at) it all. The fact is, when it comes to selecting the perfect holiday presents for the men in my life, I am totally clueless. But what I’m definitely not clueless about is books — and when it’s time to choose that perfect holiday present, you can’t go wrong with a great book gift for your brother, or any of the other fabulous guys you know.

Plus, the best thing about giving your brother a book as a gift is that you can borrow it once he’s finished, am I right? (Just kidding… kinda.) From rock-‘n’-roll bios to totally man-friendly cookbooks, investigative reporting on both science and sports, hilarious and heart-warming memoirs to fiction titles he won’t be able to put down, and yes: one feminist read that will totally step up your bro’s dating game, here are 16 books to give your brother this holiday season.

1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Since 2009 The Boss has been putting the legends of his life of music and activism to paper, in what has become his 2016 autobiography Born to Run. Elevating the genre of rock star-bio to the stuff of great literature, Born to Run is a story of hard work and relentless dreaming, one that will inspire Springsteen fans as well as anyone who is new to his music.

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2. One of These Things First: A Memoir by Steven Gaines

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Steven Gaines’s voice after reading his memoir One of These Things First. Breaking your heart one moment and cracking you up the next, Gaines’s memoir tells his coming-of-age story, growing up as a gay young man working in his grandparents’ lingerie store, ultimately attempting suicide, and earning himself a stay in the exclusive Payne Whitney psychiatric clinic. Dark humor and thoughtful prose rule this one.

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3. The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist dives headfirst into the world of great beverages, exploring the botanical history of the world’s oldest drinking traditions. With over 150 plants, flowers, trees, fruits, and fungus featured, fifty-plus drink recipes, and growing tips for gardeners, The Drunken Botanist tackles everything from molasses to LSD, with tons of cocktails in between.

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4. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

A novel that reimagines the United States as if the Civil War never happened, Ben H. Winters’s Underground Airlines follows a young black man and former-slave named Victor who works as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service, working to infiltrate and then expose abolitionist movements in exchange for his own freedom. It’s a complex, ground-breaking, disturbing thriller.

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5. Time Travel: A History by James Gleick

Perfect for the brainiac who likes to venture into the landscape of mind-bending theoretical science, James Gleick’s Time Travel traces the history and evolution of time travel, beginning with H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine, and traveling through both literature and science, pulp fiction and modern physics.

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6. Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride

Another soulful biography that belongs on the bookshelves of any music-lover, National Book Award winner James McBride explores the untold history of the influential and unparalleled Godfather of Soul. Responsible for inspiring and influencing generations of musicians that followed the path of his iconic sound, the funk and R&B musician had a difficult, complicated, and — until now — mysterious past. It’s all revealed here.

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7. The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football by S. C. Gwynne

A great read for sports lovers, The Perfect Pass tells the story of how two coaches revolutionized American football by collaborating over the invention of what could be considered the most extreme passing offensive in the 145-year history of football.

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8. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

Today there are more unmarried and later-married women living in the United States than ever before — and if your brother is unattached and wants to step up his dating game, this is the perfect read for understanding the sexual, economic, and emotional lives of women in America today. Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies is a feminist exploration of social history — and let’s be honest, every guy needs some feminist titles on his bookshelves.

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9. The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild by Dave Canterbury

Moving in a decidedly different direction, renowned outdoors expert Dave Canterbury’s book The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild will teach your bro everything he needs to know about surviving (and snacking) in the wild. And even if he’s more of an indoorsy-type fellow, this book makes a great coffee table/conversation piece.

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10. The Last Hobo: A Clueless Detroit Kid Hitchhikes Across America the Summer the Seventies Ran Out of Gas by Dan Grajek

Traveling back to the summer of 1979, Dan Grajek’s The Last Hobo is a hilarious and energizing account of one 19-year-old’s kid’s road trip. Based on a true story, this historical novel paints an unforgettable portrait of a particular kind of America during a particular point in history — as the 1970s give way to the ‘80s, and what was perhaps the last decade during which one could safely hitchhike across the United States alone slowly faded away.

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11. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad re-imagines the underground railroad as an actual railway, with stations and steam engines, manned by a cast of characters who regularly risk both their safety and their lives in order to transport southern slaves to freedom in the northern United States. The novel centers around a young woman named Cora, a former-slave from a Georgia cotton plantation who travels north, only to realize that “freedom” can be manifested (or not) in many different ways.

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12. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Adventure, plus library books? Sounds like a great read to me. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the story of Abdel Kader Haidara, collector for a government library who traveled across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, searching for thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts in an attempt to preserve them — and ultimately smuggle them away from — Al Qaeda.

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13. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

A work of investigation and discovery that blends humor with science, Ed Youg’s I Contain Multitudes explores the world from a microbe’s-eye view, illuminating the interconnectedness between non-human animals and human ones and celebrating the essential role that the tiniest of organisms play in the survival — as well as the destruction — of all species.

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14. Victuals: An Appalachian Journey with Recipes by Ronni Lundy

Another book that takes dining outdoors, Victuals: An Appalachian Journey with Recipes explores the surprisingly diverse culinary landscape of the American mountain south. Featuring 80 recipes and stories from author Ronni Lundy’s time traveling through the Appalachian mountain region, this book is great for food lovers and travelers alike.

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15. The Shepherd's View: Modern Photographs From an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks

I love sheep as much as the next person, but I don’t know that I’d necessarily consider them the stuff of art—that is, at least, until discovering James Rebanks’s book The Shepherd's View: Modern Photographs From an Ancient Landscape. Thoughtfully compiled, with a nod to both art and poetry, the photographs in The Shepherd’s View chronicle a region of the world where sheep, their dogs, and their shepherds reign.

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16. News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles’s National Book Award-nominated News of the World introduces readers to the rough, stoic, and endearing Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd — a wanderer, a widower, and a war veteran who travels across Texas in the years after the Civil War, reading newspapers to anyone looking for news taking place in the rest of the world. During the course of his wanderings Captain Kidd is enlisted to transport a young orphan, Johanna, to her aunt and uncle in San Antonio.

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Images: Andrew Neel/Unsplash