Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Book Review: The Book of Man by William Bennett
I just finished reading The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood by William Bennett. I received a complimentary copy from BookSneeze and I'm offering my review of it here. The Book of Man, to quote Dr Bennett himself, exists to "explore and explain what it means to be a man" to the next generation of men. Dr. Bennett divides the Book of Man into several chapters, covering how a man acts while he is at war, work, recreation, in society, with women and children and in his religious life. The Book of Man draws from a variety of ancient and modern sources, all of which teach classic, timeless and eternal lessons on what truly defines a man. This raises an important question, what is a man? Fundamentally, Bennett wants us to see men as boys who were taught to accept responsibility for themselves as well as others, to live fulfilling lives that place others before self and to follow a code of ethics that raises their moral conscious above the animals.
Bennett, for those unfamiliar with him, writes very obviously from a socially conservative and traditional perspective. For Bennett this means that a man is one who works hard at his job, and even harder when he is supporting a wife and child, a man treats women, children and animals with respect and gentleness, and a man holds himself to to a higher standard in all his actions. These are not necessarily virtues that would be dismissed by those who hold to other worldviews, however, they are virtues that have been adopted by conservative causes. The Book of Man would be very appealing to those who want to raise their children with a respect for tradition, a concept of old-fashioned honor and holding to conservative moral values.
The Book of Man offers short examples of individuals who have acted like men, or adages that exemplify "manly" characteristics. For parents wanting to raise sons who grow from boys into men, this book should sit on their shelf alongside nursery books, C.S. Lewis and the biography of Athanasius I reviewed earlier. Bennett doesn't neglect girls, although girls are not the focus of the book that Bennett has written. The virtues that Bennett considers manly really are universal to humanity: faithfulness, honesty, respect. I do complain that his chapter on man at his end, death, serves as more of an epilogue. In a culture obsessed with a you and beauty, a healthy respect for the fact that all will die one day is something that should not be neglected.