100 books like The Big Empty

By Norman Mailer, John Buffalo Mailer,

Here are 100 books that The Big Empty fans have personally recommended if you like The Big Empty. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of The Executioner's Song

Rick R. Reed Author Of The Man from Milwaukee

From my list on true crime that would be criminal not to read.

Who am I?

I chose this list for two reasons—one, true crime has always held great fascination for me. I have a real hunger to understand the motivations behind the darkest sides of human nature, which I believe exists in us all. My own book, The Man from Milwaukee, dives deep into this obsession by sympathetically portraying a closeted young gay man in 1991 Chicago, who sees the cannibal killer as a victim himself of his own irresistible murderous impulses, likening them to our main character’s own self-loathing toward his same-sex desires. 

Rick's book list on true crime that would be criminal not to read

Rick R. Reed Why did Rick love this book?

Mailer’s opus dramatizes the cursed life of Gary Gilmore. In 1976, he robbed and killed two strangers. After being tried and sentenced to death, Gilmore insisted on being executed, to the disagreement of the justice system, who wanted him to remain alive. Written simply and with great compassion, the novel is disturbing, yet ultimately thought-provoking and redemptive.

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Executioner's Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ANDREW O'HAGAN

In the summer of 1976 Gary Gilmore robbed two men. Then he shot them in cold blood. For those murders Gilmore was sent to languish on Death Row - and could confidently expect his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. In America, no one had been executed for ten years.

But Gary Gilmore wanted to die, and his ensuing battle with the authorities for the right to do so made him into a world-wide celebrity - and ensured that his execution turned into the most gruesome media event of the decade.


Book cover of The Fight

Robert J. Begiebing Author Of Norman Mailer at 100: Conversations, Correlations, Confrontations

From my list on reading Norman Mailer.

Who am I?

I’m a Professor of English Emeritus at Southern New Hampshire University and author of ten books, including fiction, criticism, memoir, and collected journalism. I was also an inaugural faculty member in the writing workshops at the Norman Mailer Center in Provincetown, MA. I first got into Mailer in the 1970s after reading The Naked and the Dead and Cannibals and ChristiansI ended up writing my doctoral dissertation on Mailer, which became my first book, Acts of Regeneration. My second book, Toward A New Synthesis, examined Mailer along with John Fowles and John Gardner as writers who adopted some of the techniques of post-modernism but kept their work firmly tethered to ethical issues.  

Robert's book list on reading Norman Mailer

Robert J. Begiebing Why did Robert love this book?

One of the best sports books ever written? Judge for yourself, but I think it is certainly among the best. Even if you don’t like boxing or martial arts, you’ll enjoy this eminently readable book about “the rumble in the jungle” in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, two heroic athletes in conflict. Although there are moments of self-deprecating humor and Mailer’s usual philosophical concerns, Mailer focuses squarely on the two athletes, their training camps and trainers, the people around them, and the experience of being in Africa. And then of course there is the fight itself, described in vivid and inventive detail that I found is as riveting to other readers as it is to me. The philosophical/metaphysical concerns here are part and parcel of those Mailer developed through his sixty years as a writer, but they are introduced in an easily digestible style and seem to me…

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the major innovators of New Journalism, Norman Mailer's The Fight is the real-life story of a clash between two of the world's greatest boxers, both in and out of the ring, published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Norman Mailer's The Fight focuses on the 1974 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Kinshasa, Zaire. Muhammad Ali met George Foreman in the ring. Foreman's genius employed silence, serenity and cunning. He had never been defeated. His hands were his instrument, and 'he kept them in his pockets the way a hunter lays his rifle back into its velvet case'. Together the…


Book cover of The Naked and the Dead

J.M. Unrue Author Of The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

From my list on showing that somebody has it worse than you do.

Who am I?

I’m an old guy. I say this with a bit of cheek and a certain amount of incongruity. All the books on my list are old. That’s one area of continuity. Another, and I’ll probably stop at two, is that they all deal with ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances—those curveballs of life we flail at with an unfamiliar bat; the getting stuck on the Interstate behind a semi and some geezer in a golf cap hogging the passing lane in a Buick Le Sabre. No one makes it through this life unscathed. How we cope does more to define us than a thousand smiles when things are rosy. Thus endeth the lesson.

J.M.'s book list on showing that somebody has it worse than you do

J.M. Unrue Why did J.M. love this book?

A masterful debut novel, post-WWII, and dealing with characters in the heat of battle, internally and externally.

I was forced to read it in eleventh grade Honors English (what they called AP pre-AP. Like I said, I’m old). I reread it for edification as a young writer and was awed by the craftsmanship. The writing is dense and requires patience. War is never pretty.

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Naked and the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed as one of the finest novels to come out of the Second World War, The Naked and the Dead received unprecedented critical acclaim upon its publication and has since enjoyed a long and well-deserved tenure in the American canon. This fiftieth anniversary edition features a new introduction created especially for the occasion by Norman Mailer.

Written in gritty, journalistic detail, the story follows a platoon of Marines who are stationed on the Japanese-held island of Anopopei. Composed in 1948 with the wisdom of a man twice Mailer's age and the raw courage of the young man he was, The…


Book cover of The Time of Our Time

Robert J. Begiebing Author Of Norman Mailer at 100: Conversations, Correlations, Confrontations

From my list on reading Norman Mailer.

Who am I?

I’m a Professor of English Emeritus at Southern New Hampshire University and author of ten books, including fiction, criticism, memoir, and collected journalism. I was also an inaugural faculty member in the writing workshops at the Norman Mailer Center in Provincetown, MA. I first got into Mailer in the 1970s after reading The Naked and the Dead and Cannibals and ChristiansI ended up writing my doctoral dissertation on Mailer, which became my first book, Acts of Regeneration. My second book, Toward A New Synthesis, examined Mailer along with John Fowles and John Gardner as writers who adopted some of the techniques of post-modernism but kept their work firmly tethered to ethical issues.  

Robert's book list on reading Norman Mailer

Robert J. Begiebing Why did Robert love this book?

Published on the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Naked and the Dead, the book is an overview of Mailer’s entire writing career up to 1998, by way of introductions to and excepts from his decades of fiction and nonfiction. I make this recommendation as a risk because the book is a nearly 1300-page-long anthology. No one is going to sit down and read cover to cover, however, so I offer it as a way of seeing the sweep of a major author’s career; here you can dip in and out as you wish to see what’s up with a given work or topic at any point in Mailer’s publishing life, up to 1998. You can decide then what you want to read in the offered excerpt or in full, either from an included short work of magazine journalism or a short story, or from a whole…

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Time of Our Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE TIME OF OUR TIME is a selection of Mailer's best work, chosen by Mailer himself, and ingeniously arranged as a literary retrospective. It is a masterly, boisterous portrait of our times, seen through the fiction and reportage of a great writer. Included are passages from THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT and THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG, as well as many of his other works and his best-known magazine pieces from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna. This giant omnibus is a testament to Mailer's enormous energies, his vast curiosity, and his amazing talent and amounts almost to a…


Book cover of Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America

Michael Barone Author Of Mental Maps of the Founders: How Geographic Imagination Guided America's Revolutionary Leaders

From my list on the struggles of the early America republic.

Who am I?

My friend Lou Cannon, the great reporter and Reagan biographer, once told me, “if you want to really learn about a subject, write a book about it.” As a political journalist and author of several books about current and past politics,  wanted to learn more about the Founding Fathers, and as a map buff I tried to understand how they understood a continent most of which was not accurately mapped and how they envisioned the geographic limits and reach of a new republic more extensive in size than most nations in Europe. The book is my attempt to share what I learned with readers, and to invite them to read more about these extraordinary leaders.

Michael's book list on the struggles of the early America republic

Michael Barone Why did Michael love this book?

In recent years we have often heard it said that the United States is, for the first time in history, a diverse society.

David Hackett Fischer’s classic Albion’s Seed illustrates how not only the United States but the British seaboard colonies had enormous cultural diversity, based on the different regional origins in the British Isles of the bulk of their settlers.

The Founders knew this already: John Adams of Massachusetts nominated George Washington of Virginia to be commander of the Continental Army, because he understood that the Revolution needed support beyond New England, and Washington as commander soon learned that leading prickly Yankee New Englanders required different tactics than leading deferential Anglican Virginians. 

By David Hackett Fischer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Albion's Seed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eighty percent of Americans have no British ancestors. According to David Hackett Fischer, however, their day-to-day lives are profoundly influenced by folkways transplanted from Britain to the New World with the first settlers. Residual, yet persistent, aspects of these 17th Century folkways are indentifiable, Fischer argues, in areas as divers as politics, education, and attitudes towards gender, sexuality, age, and child-raising. Making use of both traditional
and revisionist scholarship, this ground-breaking work documents how each successive wave of early emigration-Puritans to the North-East; Royalist aristocrats to the South; the Friends to the Delaware Valley; Irish and North Britons to the…


Book cover of Out of Our Minds: What We Think and How We Came to Think It

Michael C. Corballis Author Of Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind

From my list on the mind (how it works and where it came from).

Who am I?

Michael Corballis is a psychologist and brain scientist. His interests lie in how the mind works, how it maps onto the brain, and how it evolved. Much of his work is published in books and scientific articles, but he has also written books aimed at a general readership. These include Pieces of Mind, The Lopsided Ape, The Recursive Mind, The Wandering Mind, and The Truth about Language.

Michael's book list on the mind (how it works and where it came from)

Michael C. Corballis Why did Michael love this book?

Much of what we do and think comes from imagination, generated by our minds rather than by the physical world. This includes art, literature, music, religion, even science. Our dreams are spontaneous acts of creativity, and even memory itself can be distorted by the restless mind.  Fernandez-Armesto argues that many animals have better memories than we do, because the human system produces spontaneously creative thoughts at the expense of fidelity. That’s why memories are often false. The author is a historian with an interest in how the mind works, and his book is an amazingly comprehensive history of the human imagination.

By Felipe Fernández-Armesto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out of Our Minds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To imagine-to see what is not there-is the startling ability that has fueled human development and innovation through the centuries. As a species we stand alone in our remarkable capacity to refashion the world after the picture in our minds.

Traversing the realms of science, politics, religion, culture, philosophy and history, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto reveals the thrilling and disquieting tales of our imaginative leaps-from the first Homo sapiens to the present day. Through groundbreaking insights in cognitive science, Fernandez-Armesto explores how and why we have ideas in the first place, providing a tantalizing glimpse into who we are and what we…


Book cover of The Good Old Days-- They Were Terrible!

Johan Norberg Author Of Open: The Story of Human Progress

From my list on to make you grateful you live today.

Who am I?

I did not use to believe in human progress, but thought there must have been good old days behind us – until I studied history and understood that my ancestors did not live ecologically, they died ecologically, at an early age. Since then I’ve been obsessed with progress, what makes it possible and how we can spread it to more people. I am a historian of ideas from Sweden, the host of a video series on innovations in history, New and Improved, and the writer of many books on intellectual history and global economics, translated into more than 25 languages.

Johan's book list on to make you grateful you live today

Johan Norberg Why did Johan love this book?

This 1974 book, by the founder of one of the world’s great picture libraries, was a real eye-opener to me when I first read it. We are all nostalgic and look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, and so do I. But then we forget about the hunger and the crime, tuberculosis, smallpox and heaps of trash on the streets, the child labor, and the despair of the aged. This richly illustrated book, with its multitude of stories, set me straight. For instance, did you know that New York had 150,000 horses in 1900, each producing around 20 pounds of manure a day? The past stank. It makes you deeply grateful for science, technology, and economic growth.

By Otto Bettmann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Good Old Days-- They Were Terrible! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Good Old Days—were they really good? On the surface they appear to be so—especially the period to which this term is most often applied, the years from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900’s. This period of history has receded into a benevolent haze, leaving us with the image of an ebullient, carefree America, the fun and charm of the Gilded Age, the Gay Nineties.

But this gaiety was only a brittle veneer that covered widespread turmoil and suffering. The good old days were good for but the privileged few. For the farmer, the laborer, the…


Book cover of Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America

Autumn Carolynn Author Of Traveling in Wonder: A Travel Photographer's Tales of Wanderlust

From my list on books to take with you on the plane before your international travel adventure.

Who am I?

I am an avid lover of all cultures, especially travel memoirs. I had a goal to travel to 30 countries in 30 years, and I wrote a memoir, Traveling in Wonder. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting both the author and side characters in all of these books, as each brings something extraordinary to the story. I also loved the descriptions in these memoirs, which brought me back to my memories!

Autumn's book list on books to take with you on the plane before your international travel adventure

Autumn Carolynn Why did Autumn love this book?

Eric does a fantastic job of connecting Nordic and Scandinavian cultures with the Minnesotan and American cultures within my state. Living in Minnesota, I’m always interested in books that discuss cultural or societal norms like the ones I interact with on a daily basis.

I truly enjoyed broadening my knowledge on this search!

By Eric Dregni,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vikings in the Attic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Growing up with Swedish and Norwegian grandparents with a dash of Danish thrown in for balance, Eric Dregni thought Scandinavians were perfectly normal. Who doesn't enjoy a good, healthy salad (Jell-O packed with canned fruit, colored marshmallows, and pretzels) or perhaps some cod soaked in drain cleaner as the highlights of Christmas? Only later did it dawn on him that perhaps this was just a little strange, but by then it was far too late: he was hooked and a dyed-in-the-wool Scandinavian himself.

But what does it actually mean to grow up Scandinavian-American or to live with these Norwegians, Swedes,…


Book cover of A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future

Mohamed Rabie Author Of The Global Debt Crisis and Its Socioeconomic Implications: Creating Conditions for a Sustainable, Peaceful, and Just World

From my list on serving humanity and revealing misleading secrets.

Who am I?

I am a retired professor, was raised in a refugee camp, one of a family of 9 living in one tent. studied in Palestine, Egypt, Germany, and America, have Ph.D. in economics; scholarships financed my education journey. I lived a life no human has lived or can live, because some of the times I lived had come and gone and cannot come back again. I taught at 11 universities on 4 continents, published 60 books in Arabic and English: books on economics, politics, culture, history, conflict resolution, philosophy, racism, novels, and poetry. True intellectuals cannot stay in one area because issues that shape mankind's history and man’s destiny are interconnected. 

Mohamed's book list on serving humanity and revealing misleading secrets

Mohamed Rabie Why did Mohamed love this book?

A History of Knowledge is a treasure that invites everyone to explore and enjoy. It recounts the history of human progress from primitive times to the 21st century. Van Doren covers the history of ideas, inventions, civilizations, ideologies, and issues of justice, war, and slavery. Almost no famous thinker, emperor, philosopher, inventor, or artist is not mentioned, and his contribution examined. These are two of my favorite quotations; “Our fathers started the revolution, and we are still living it. We could not stop it even if we wanted to.” “The rich are never rich enough... to have enough is simply to be content with what you have. When wanting comes first, you can never have enough. If contentment is placed first, it does not matter how much you have.”

By Charles Van Doren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A one-voume reference to the history of ideas that is a compendium of everything that humankind has thought, invented, created, considered, and perfected from the beginning of civilization into the twenty-first century. Massive in its scope, and yet totally accessible, A HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE covers not only all the great theories and discoveries of the human race, but also explores the social conditions, political climates, and individual men and women of genius that brought ideas to fruition throughout history. "Crystal clear and concise...Explains how humankind got to know what it knows." Clifton Fadiman Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the…


Book cover of A Study of History: Volume I: Abridgement of Volumes I-VI

Steven D. Smith Author Of The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity

From my list on why Western civilization is falling apart.

Who am I?

I’m a misplaced law professor, you might say: I never wanted to be a lawyer; I went to law school almost by accident; and for four decades I’ve used law as a window into my deeper interests– religion, history, and philosophy. I couldn’t make myself write books unless the subjects were personally engaging; and in defiance of editors, I insist on writing readable prose. If this adds up to “dilettante,” so be it. My books, published by the university presses of Harvard, Oxford, Notre Dame, Duke, and NYU, as well as Eerdmans, have dealt with constitutional law; Roman, medieval, and modern history; legal philosophy; and religious freedom.

Steven's book list on why Western civilization is falling apart

Steven D. Smith Why did Steven love this book?

A book can be vastly overambitious, and hence broadly unpersuasive, and yet still be full of insights. 

Toynbee’s monumental study attempted to order all of human history into a recurring pattern of civilizational genesis, growth, decline, and breakdown. It couldn’t be done, as historians and critics have pointed out.

Even so, the study is rich with ideas and perspectives about factors that contribute to societal growth and decline, the role of “creative minorities,” the effects of religion on civilization and vice versa, and much else.

Hardly anyone (including me) will manage to read all 12 volumes, but Toynbee himself approved a readable two-volume abridgment by D. C. Somervell, which was illuminating when I read it in college and has continued to be illuminating in the years since then.

By Arnold J. Toynbee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Study of History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Arnold Toynbee's analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations has been acknowledged as one of the great achievements of twentieth-century scholarship. D.C. Somervell's abridgement of this monumental work is a great achievement in its own right. While reducing the work to one sixth of its original size, he has succeeded in preserving its method and character. The first volume of the abridgement presents Toynbee's philosophy of history as it appears in the first six volumes of the original work. This volume includes the Introduction; The Geneses of Civilizations; The Growth of Civilizations; The Breakdowns of Civilizations; and The Disintegrations…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in civilization, boxing, and George W. Bush?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about civilization, boxing, and George W. Bush.

Civilization Explore 209 books about civilization
Boxing Explore 37 books about boxing
George W. Bush Explore 36 books about George W. Bush