If you long for a bold, exciting, active life where men are usually men, where good is good, where bad is bad and where smart, rough, direct action gets things done, a burgeoning world of great reading awaits you. Things may not have been more comfortable back then, but they were simpler.

Warrior lit, often presented as the written (in the first person) recollections of an aging and battle scarred warrior (Viking, Saxon, infantryman or naval officer) who fought, wenched, rode, sailed, marauded or marched through wars, military campaigns, forests of women with varying degrees of tree-hugging, action and intrigue is gilded and upholstered with different levels of historical detail. The quality of these works varies widely, but their huge following and the number of books that are published attest to their appeal and entertainment value. They are diverse in setting and characterization but remarkably parallel in their focus on men of action, their behaviors and their values. A few of the best are described in the following.

Bernard Cornwell ( is the dean of the genre. His series of novels about Richard Sharpe follow the exploits, loves, crimes and life of an orphan who becomes a petty crook, joins the British army and works his way up through the ranks in the Napoleonic wars. The books are straightforward, well told stories that move quickly with a good level of period historical color. Cornwell has written other series about an archer at Agincourt, about the Arthurian legend, the American civil war, and his best series is, in my view, about a war leader in the service (most of the time) of Alfred the Great.

The historical detail of another series, the Flashman books, by George MacDonald Fraser ( is impressive. Fraser seamlessly weaves his character Harry Flashman, the bully from Tom Brown’s Schools Days, in and out of classic works of fiction and real history. Flashman is at the Khyber pass when the British retreat, leads the charge of the Light Brigade, he’s at Harper’s Ferry with John Brown, with Custer at the Little Bighorn and meets and describes insightfully people like Queen Victoria, Lincoln, and Gladstone. These books are easy to read, works of detailed, but readable and interesting historical scholarship written with an often brilliant comic perspective. You can’t go wrong.

Stories about Vikings clearly lend themselves to the genre and make a connection with readers. Books by Giles Kristian, ( Robert Low ( and Tim Severin ( ring with swords hitting shields, winds whistling through sails, action, history, bravery, courage and folly. These are good stories, well told. Great hammock reading.

Without the history, but very much of the genre, are Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels ( These books have a huge following. Jack Reacher is a big, rugged (more about that in a minute) former military policeman, who quit the army and moved off to see America. An army brat, Reacher was brought up on military bases all over the world and knows America from education and upbringing, but not first-hand. Jack sets out in search of America and what he finds and does has to be read to be seen and believed. This man of action takes it all the way with his own rules and unique abilities. As part of the appeal of the books is watching the character develop, you should begin with the first book, Killing Floor and read the books in order.

Interest is intense in these books and telling more about them will detract from the experience of reading them. You will get an idea of the commitment of this community of readers’ when you take a look at how they have received the news that Tom Cruise, the antithesis of Jack Reacher, has brought the rights and intends to star in a movie as Jack Reacher ( Not so happy. There’s even a Facebook page called Tom Cruise is Not Jack Reacher.

Curiously these books are significantly better written and more entertaining than most western novels. Somehow the old west has yet to be translated into these kinds of stories. Adherence to the Code of the West seems to make cowboys into wooden mannequins when compared with the very human, quasi-savages of warrior lit.

So, good stories but not great literature. Warrior lit consistently presents and reflects a point of view, one of the more extreme ones, in the on-going discussion of what it means to be man.