Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: The Book of Man

William J. Bennett has written many a fine book, but this one is different. In his introduction to The Book of Man, Readings on the Path to Manhood, Mr. Bennett makes no bones about it: “There is a trouble with men today.” His introduction in short order lists what he believes to be some of the major deficiencies of men today: a decline in foundational virtues, the collapse of the code of gentlemen, and even confusion about what it means to be a man today. He cites measurements on the increasing time men spend in front of the television or gaming, and the decreasing amount spent working or entering into marriage. “The purpose of this book is to explore and explain what it means to be a man.” The readings “cover a wide range of life’s stages and circumstances and current maladies.” And as Mr. Bennett concludes: “I hope this book will lift up you and the ones you love. I hope it will help you learn and remember what it is to be a man.”

A quick glance at the reviews on Amazon for this book finds only two ratings, either 5-star or 1-star. And while the 5-star ratings were very enthusiastic for the book, looking at the 1-star ratings, I found unbridled hatred for the author and his Christian beliefs. The 1-star reviewers mentioned little of the book or its topics, only of their hatred. I guess that made me somewhat sad, that such is the state of our country that hatred is the main way for some to express their disagreement with something, but I guess Christians have felt this hatred throughout all history, and Our Founder felt it the most.

Quickly changing my mood though, I realized I probably would like this book, and I very much do.

The 500 page book contains about 300 chapters, each a quote from someone in history, broken into six areas of man: at War, at Work, at Play, at Sports and Leisure, in the Polis, with Women and Children, and in Prayer and Reflection. The authors range from Pericles and William the Conqueror to Pete Maravich and George W. Bush, and from just about every walk of life, from saint to sinner. The works are from speeches, books, poems, and yes, prayers. I found quotes, like this one from Calvin Coolidge, to resonate with my own thoughts of late: No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave. (I wonder if those in American calling for more from the government or from rich people know that one.) Almost all the chapters speak about men who gave of themselves to others; they were men. Some of the “chapters” are only a half page long and none longer than ten pages, so they are ideal for any of today’s youth challenged by short attention spans. But this book is a good pleasant read for adults also.

This book will be one I add to my Christmas list for my teenage Godchildren, boys and girls. For the boys I will inscribe how I wish them to read and know what it means to be a man, a real man. I’ll encourage them to keep the book, and measure themselves against some of the ideal men in it and their actions, not to ever hope to be the ideal man, but to have some benchmarks on how well they are doing --- and to remind themselves that there are those who have tried and have succeeded to be good men, and that they were happy, admired --- and remembered. They made a difference in this world. And to the girls I will write that they should read and then know: there are good men in this world. Never settle for less, for a spouse, or even a friend. And to both I will encourage that they continue to pray, even for me, as I shall for them.

If you are looking for a good book for the whole family, one to put on the shelf knowing that it may interest anyone, from young to old, then this is a good buy. Most of what we consider classic works contain specific morals or messages to be remembered. Most of what we consider the “Chicken Soup” books contain short stories to make you feel good. This book is in between those; it contains many classic messages and many short stories that only in total make you feel good. Finishing this book, you will feel a contentment, like hearing:“Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” But this is no fairy tale.

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