The best hero books

42 authors have picked their favorite books about heroes and why they recommend each book.

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Circe

By Madeline Miller,

Book cover of Circe

Set in the ancient realm of Greek mythology, Madeline Miller gives her novel a surprisingly contemporary feeling. By recounting the tales of the witch Circe, daughter of the titan Helios, this book celebrates the strength of a woman who stands against the anger and vengefulness of mortals and Olympian gods, drawing strength from the nature of the island of Aiaia where she has been banished. While becoming skilled in Pharmaka, the art of doing witchcraft with herbs grown where gods have died, Circe meets legendary figures like Daedalus, Odysseus, Jason, and famed gods like Apollo and Athena. Circe is an ode to ancient myths and teaches us to break free from conformity, fight for what we love, and use nature to heal ourselves and the rest of the world. 


Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by stories of fantastical lands where people have powers and meet a variety of otherworldly obstacles that they have to surmount. During my travels as an environmental researcher, I found myself in the depths of the Amazon rainforest and the frozen terrains of Iceland and have become inspired by the nature that surrounded me, as well as the myths and legends of other cultures. Through my words, I try and evoke a sense of enchantment and escapism, in the attempt to invite the reader to travel with me to mysterious lands full of unexpected challenges, inhabited by eccentric people and the persistent threat of powerful enemies.


I wrote...

The Lightbringer: Through the Elder Stone

By Dael Sassoon,

Book cover of The Lightbringer: Through the Elder Stone

What is my book about?

All that Jason wanted was to be a travel photographer. When his ship sinks on the coast of Greenland and he crosses through a magical portal, his life takes an unexpected turn. Waking up in a fantastical world, the legendary Flare now rushes through Jason’s veins. He is given the chance to save an enchanted world from the ominous grasp of the tyrant Emperor Darkstrom, who spreads death across the land. Before he can go back home, Jason must embrace his new identity as a Lightbringer and learn how to control his newfound powers. The people and nature of Valkadia depend on it. Will he be able to come to terms with his new identity, or will the journey get the better of him?

Real Heroes

By Lawrence W. Reed,

Book cover of Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character, and Conviction

My book is theoretical, on the nature of heroes. Reed’s book is the perfect complement to it. It provides brief bios for numerous heroes—many who are famous and many who are not but should be. One vivid example of the latter is Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl. Many people realize that Winston Churchill recognized early on the evil of Hitler and the need to oppose National Socialism. But few know that the diminutive Duchess realized it sooner, that she warned Churchill, that she had the full translated speeches of Hitler sent to him, that she stood up to Neville Chamberlain, head of her own party, and that, in defense of liberty, she fearlessly warned the West against the dangers of both the Soviets and the Nazis. Lawrence Reed’s book is replete with true stories of such little known heroes.


Who am I?

I am a kid from Brooklyn who is, and always has been, an inveterate hero worshiper. In a world that is generally mad and too often violent, I have weaned myself on the lives of heroes. I may lack their prowess, but I have striven for their dedication to excellence. I have published numerous books, including The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire. But it is my recent book that crowns a lifetime of thinking about heroes. What is their nature? What factors in the world give rise to the possibility—and the necessity—of heroes? How do we rationally define the concept “hero”? These are the questions my book addresses and seeks to answer.


I wrote...

Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

By Andrew Bernstein,

Book cover of Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

What is my book about?

The book starts with a broad range of examples of differing kinds of persons, distinguishing those who perform life-enhancing deeds, especially on an epic scale, from those of more prosaic attainments. Some are dauntless in the face of impediments and/or dangers that would dismay a lesser person. Some possess prowess, whether intellectual, bodily, or both, exceeding that of Everyman. Some pursue substantial life-promoting goals and never surrender their vision. Individuals who combine these traits tower over those who do not and show us what it means to be a hero.

Further, heroes are necessary for two reasons. First, the curing of disease, the defense of liberty, the identification of new truths, and so forth, often takes ability and courage beyond that of Everyman. It is the work of heroes. Second, a hero’s unswerving dedication to life-enhancing goals serves as inspiration to all honest persons to be the best versions of ourselves.

A Call to Heroism

By Peter H. Gibbon,

Book cover of A Call to Heroism: Renewing America's Vision of Greatness

Peter Gibbon has, at an emotional level, a magnificent capacity to admire heroes.  He provides snippets of many heroes’ lives and he savors their accomplishments. One of the most effective aspects of his book is his rejection of the modern anti-hero mentality that disparages heroes. “Biography today is rarely about greatness,” he writes. “At best, it displays a dispassionate balance. More often, it focuses on failure…and weakness and unveils the intimate life—slighting artistic accomplishment, scientific discovery, and political achievement. At worst, contemporary biographers self-righteously excoriate any hint of impurity, prejudice, sexism, or hypocrisy.” 

Unfortunately, a la many authors on the topic, he offers no rigorous definition of “hero” or “heroism.” He says: The definition of hero remains subjective. What is extraordinary can be debated. Courage is in the eye of the beholder. Greatness of soul is elusive.” Nevertheless, there is great value in his spirited accounts of numerous heroes.


Who am I?

I am a kid from Brooklyn who is, and always has been, an inveterate hero worshiper. In a world that is generally mad and too often violent, I have weaned myself on the lives of heroes. I may lack their prowess, but I have striven for their dedication to excellence. I have published numerous books, including The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire. But it is my recent book that crowns a lifetime of thinking about heroes. What is their nature? What factors in the world give rise to the possibility—and the necessity—of heroes? How do we rationally define the concept “hero”? These are the questions my book addresses and seeks to answer.


I wrote...

Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

By Andrew Bernstein,

Book cover of Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

What is my book about?

The book starts with a broad range of examples of differing kinds of persons, distinguishing those who perform life-enhancing deeds, especially on an epic scale, from those of more prosaic attainments. Some are dauntless in the face of impediments and/or dangers that would dismay a lesser person. Some possess prowess, whether intellectual, bodily, or both, exceeding that of Everyman. Some pursue substantial life-promoting goals and never surrender their vision. Individuals who combine these traits tower over those who do not and show us what it means to be a hero.

Further, heroes are necessary for two reasons. First, the curing of disease, the defense of liberty, the identification of new truths, and so forth, often takes ability and courage beyond that of Everyman. It is the work of heroes. Second, a hero’s unswerving dedication to life-enhancing goals serves as inspiration to all honest persons to be the best versions of ourselves.

The Hero in History

By Sidney Hook,

Book cover of The Hero in History

Hook draws an interesting distinction in his book on heroes. He discusses two types of heroes: the eventful man and the event-making man. “The eventful man in history is any man whose actions influenced subsequent developments along a quite different course than would have been followed if those actions had not been taken. The event-making man is an eventful man whose actions are the consequence of outstanding capacities of intellect, will, and character rather than of accidents of position. This distinction tries to do justice to the general belief that a hero is great not merely in virtue of what he does but in virtue of what he is." 

This is an interesting distinction that we can profitably deliberate on. Hook was a philosophy professor for decades at NYU and he brings to the issue of heroes a grasp of the historical discussion of it.


Who am I?

I am a kid from Brooklyn who is, and always has been, an inveterate hero worshiper. In a world that is generally mad and too often violent, I have weaned myself on the lives of heroes. I may lack their prowess, but I have striven for their dedication to excellence. I have published numerous books, including The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire. But it is my recent book that crowns a lifetime of thinking about heroes. What is their nature? What factors in the world give rise to the possibility—and the necessity—of heroes? How do we rationally define the concept “hero”? These are the questions my book addresses and seeks to answer.


I wrote...

Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

By Andrew Bernstein,

Book cover of Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

What is my book about?

The book starts with a broad range of examples of differing kinds of persons, distinguishing those who perform life-enhancing deeds, especially on an epic scale, from those of more prosaic attainments. Some are dauntless in the face of impediments and/or dangers that would dismay a lesser person. Some possess prowess, whether intellectual, bodily, or both, exceeding that of Everyman. Some pursue substantial life-promoting goals and never surrender their vision. Individuals who combine these traits tower over those who do not and show us what it means to be a hero.

Further, heroes are necessary for two reasons. First, the curing of disease, the defense of liberty, the identification of new truths, and so forth, often takes ability and courage beyond that of Everyman. It is the work of heroes. Second, a hero’s unswerving dedication to life-enhancing goals serves as inspiration to all honest persons to be the best versions of ourselves.

Heroes

By Lucy Hughes-Hallett,

Book cover of Heroes: Saviors, Traitors, and Supermen: A History of Hero Worship

This book does several things. First, it offers fascinating bios of eight heroes from history and mythology. Two legendary Homeric characters—Achilles and Odysseus—are joined by six giant figures from history: Alcibiades, Cato, El Cid, Wallenstein, Francis Drake, and Garibaldi. Morally, these men are often a mix of good and bad—but their stories are always robustly colorful. Hughes-Hallett draws a fascinating distinction between Achilles and Odysseus—one hero chose death and glory, the other lied, cheated, and stole to retain life. 

Hughes-Hallett points out the dangers of hero worshiping giants whose prowess might outstrip their character; the dangers of seeking guidance from “great men” that we would be better off providing ourselves.


Who am I?

I am a kid from Brooklyn who is, and always has been, an inveterate hero worshiper. In a world that is generally mad and too often violent, I have weaned myself on the lives of heroes. I may lack their prowess, but I have striven for their dedication to excellence. I have published numerous books, including The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire. But it is my recent book that crowns a lifetime of thinking about heroes. What is their nature? What factors in the world give rise to the possibility—and the necessity—of heroes? How do we rationally define the concept “hero”? These are the questions my book addresses and seeks to answer.


I wrote...

Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

By Andrew Bernstein,

Book cover of Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

What is my book about?

The book starts with a broad range of examples of differing kinds of persons, distinguishing those who perform life-enhancing deeds, especially on an epic scale, from those of more prosaic attainments. Some are dauntless in the face of impediments and/or dangers that would dismay a lesser person. Some possess prowess, whether intellectual, bodily, or both, exceeding that of Everyman. Some pursue substantial life-promoting goals and never surrender their vision. Individuals who combine these traits tower over those who do not and show us what it means to be a hero.

Further, heroes are necessary for two reasons. First, the curing of disease, the defense of liberty, the identification of new truths, and so forth, often takes ability and courage beyond that of Everyman. It is the work of heroes. Second, a hero’s unswerving dedication to life-enhancing goals serves as inspiration to all honest persons to be the best versions of ourselves.

The Ruins of Gorlan

By John Flanagan,

Book cover of The Ruins of Gorlan: Book 1

The Ruins of Gorlan is not my favorite book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but it lays the essential groundwork to fully enjoy the later books. Other than a few outliers, the series doesn’t include non-humans or real magic. While Flanagan’s world shares many characteristics of middle-age Eurasia and Africa, it remains a distinct creation. The stories are well-established, highly suspenseful, action-filled tales featuring, kidnappings, rescues, revolts, treachery, piracy, romance, and everything else you’d expect from a Saturday matinee movie. The series stems from stories Flanagan wrote to spark his son’s reading interest—a path I too followed. I particularly love that while the writing is appropriate for a middle-grader, the characters are complex enough to engage older readers, too.


Who am I?

As a child, my parents and teachers struggled to turn me into a reader. Summer reading assignments only compounded the problem. That changed when I discovered classic fantasy stories built around worlds filled with questing heroes, sorcerous villains, and dragons. The combination of fantastic worlds and wonderful characters creates a magical experience enjoyable for readers of any age. My nine published books follow this recipe—characters readers care about in worlds they want to live in. My recommended books engage readers of any age without resorting to foul language, overt sex, or graphic violence.


I wrote...

The Poisoned Princess: Warders Book 1

By Armen Pogharian,

Book cover of The Poisoned Princess: Warders Book 1

What is my book about?

Falsely convicted and exiled for attacking his friend, half-elven half-barbarian Toran flees to neighboring Eridan. Following his uncle’s advice, he finds work in the seedy Knife & Cat tavern. During the princess’s welcoming parade, Toran uses elven skills and barbarian battle rage to thwart her assassination. His actions earn him an invitation to join the secret protectors of Eridan, the Warders.

A second attempt succeeds in poisoning the princess but fails to kill her. Toran, a veteran dwarf agent, and the princess's lady in waiting embark on a mission to retrieve the antidote's key ingredient. Other Warder agents work with the thieves' guild to protect the comatose princess from the assassin, the sorceress Skade, and an unknown traitor within the royal household.

The High Deeds of Finn MacCool

By Rosemary Sutcliff,

Book cover of The High Deeds of Finn MacCool

The renowned Rosemary Sutcliff examines the life and times of legendary hero, Finn MacCool in this modern and compelling book. Her descriptive writing and attention to detail makes the writing flow effortlessly across the page. The book doesn’t read like a collection of legends, but like a modern thriller. I highly recommend it, along with its companion book, The Hound of Ulster.


Who am I?

I grew up in Ireland, where I was surrounded by stories, modern and ancient. Irish myths and legends formed the basis of the history curriculum for most children beginning the subject. Irish children are incredibly familiar with "The Children of Lir" and legendary heroes like Cúchulainn – we even have a rollercoaster named after him in our only proper theme park! As a teacher, I continued to retell these stories to my young, receptive audiences. When I was given the opportunity to write my own book of fairy tales, myths, and legends, I jumped at the chance. The research, including the reading of the books on this page, was almost as much fun as writing my book! 


I wrote...

Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

By Kieran Fanning,

Book cover of Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

What is my book about?

A complete collection of much-loved Irish fairy tales, myths, and legends, bound into a beautiful new edition. Enjoy the rich mythical history of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann on the island and their great battles with the Fomorians, right up to the modern-day fairy tales of Irish storytelling. Including the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, and featuring heroes such as Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill and many traditional favourites such as The Children of Lir.

The Triumph of Liberty

By James Powell,

Book cover of The Triumph of Liberty: A 2,000 Year History Told Through the Lives of Freedom's Greatest Champions

To me, it seems like you have to become an optimist when you study history, because you understand the terrible circumstances that we have managed to get away from. But it doesn’t happen by itself. This is the story about some of the most important individuals who made that possible. Jim Powell portrays freedom fighters throughout history, from Cicero and Locke to Martin Luther King Jr and F A Hayek, and many less well-known names. But Powell does not just describe their ideas, but their lives, the communities that made them possible, their courage, and their doubts. It’s incredibly inspiring.


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.


I wrote...

Open: The Story of Human Progress

By Johan Norberg,

Book cover of Open: The Story of Human Progress

What is my book about?

Mankind conquered the planet because we use more brains and more hands, always learning from and exchanging with others. History’s great civilizations were dependent on openness to people, goods, and ideas from strange places – and so are we.

But there is a catch. We developed this ability to cooperate harmoniously so that we could kill and steal. Competition between groups in pre-history turned us into traders, but also tribalists, tempted to divide the world into us and them. We need openness, but are often uncomfortable with it. This is the historical and psychological background to the current battle between Open and Closed. Part sweeping history and part polemic, this book makes the case for why an open world is worth fighting for more than ever.

The Tale of Gwyn

By Cynthia Voigt,

Book cover of The Tale of Gwyn

When I first encountered this book in the late 1980s, it was titled Jackaroo--named for the Robin Hood-like folk hero in the non-magical secondary world called the Kingdom. However, the star of the story is Gwyn, so the renaming makes sense. The book is riveting in its action moments, but somehow I'm even more drawn to the scenes of daily toil. I have absolutely no idea how Voigt can make scrubbing the floor seem so important! (This is the real floor-scrubbing book of this list.) The Tale of Gwyn evokes a medieval European past that feels more real than the best-researched historical novel. Hopefully the series rebrand draws the wide readership it deserves--it is both exciting and thoughtful, bleak and hopeful, and I return to it again and again. 


Who am I?

I'm an American writer who grew obsessed with all things King Arthur at age 10. Trying to be the best 7th-grade Arthurian scholar in the world set me on a path of life-long learning and research. My historical fantasy novels for children have been flatteringly called "maybe the only [fiction] depiction of the complexities of feudal obligations & responsibilities I've ever seen" by a real medievalist. While that wasn't what I was going for, it speaks to the thing I seek out when I read: total immersion in another world. If you don't feel like you scrubbed pots in the Middle Ages, why would you read about a medieval scullery maid?


I wrote...

Handbook for Dragon Slayers

By Merrie Haskell,

Book cover of Handbook for Dragon Slayers

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old Princess Matilda, whose lame foot brings fear of the evil eye, has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess's responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda's lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

The Bad Guys

By Aaron Blabey,

Book cover of The Bad Guys: Episode 1

They may look like bad guys or even smell like bad guys - but this crew of animal predators (Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Shark, and Mr. Piranha) are trying their best to change that negative perception. This series by Aaron Blabey is a wonderful introduction to the graphic novel format. It’s easy to read, fully illustrated, has lovable characters, and has an action-packed storyline. I love how Aaron flips the script and makes the bad guys the actual heroes. 


Who am I?

I am a professional dabbler who has tried things from beekeeping, duck herding, race car driving, coding, and filmmaking. But I am famously known as the author and illustrator of imaginative and fun children’s books and comics. My latest book is the hilarious supervillain graphic novel Mischief and Mayhem. It’s a story about Missy who gets kicked out of superhero boot camp and ends up as a supervillain (a nice and friendly one). I’ve always enjoyed reading about unexpected heroes and characters who flip the script. We all have challenges in our lives and when we face them head-on is when we truly find the heroes in ourselves.


I wrote...

Mischief and Mayhem #1: Born to Be Bad

By Ken Lamug,

Book cover of Mischief and Mayhem #1: Born to Be Bad

What is my book about?

Mischief and Mayhem are your respectably heinous villains. They’ll spoil new movies, steal cake from parties they weren’t invited to, and hit the good citizens where it’ll dirty them most—their toilet paper. But before Mischief and Mayhem were ever supervillains, they were just Missy and Gizmo, fresh recruits at Superhero boot camp. Except Missy lied on her hero application and has exactly zero superpowers, just her brainpower. Humiliated when caught and kicked out, she has only one fellow camp recruit who is willing to stand by her—Melvira.

Melvira has her own villainous agenda, and it involves helping Missy cross the line into villainy as her new alter ego, Mischief. But something about Melvira doesn’t sit right with Missy, and soon she’ll be called upon to battle her former best friend.

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