Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: The Book of Man

Boys in our society do not know how to become men. That claim has been made many times in the last ten years, and I think there's a lot of truth to it, so I accepted a review copy of Bill Bennett's The Book of Man.

The book offers 500+ pages of readings intended to "explore and explain ... what a man should be, how he should live, and the things to which he should aspire" (xix). Covering war, work, play, politics, family, and "prayer and reflection," this book quotes material as varied as politicians' speeches, classics like Two Years Before the Mast and Homer, and the Bible as well as profiling noteworthy men — some famous, some not.

The problem is that Bennett paints a picture of an American man, but not necessarily a Christian one.

My complaint is twofold. First, the order of the presentation places the wrong emphasis on pretty much everything. The list of topics above is the order used in the book. War comes first, and family comes after everything but God, who gets last place. A message is sent by that presentation, and it's not the way I'd want my son to look at life.

The second complaint is that a man's relationship with God is described as "Man in Prayer and Reflection," and that sums up the material in the section well. It's not "a man needs to have a strong relationship with God." The emphasis is not on knowing the Bible or following Christ. It is, "a man should pray regularly." And material on the importance of prayer shares space with "Man in ... Reflection."

A man should spend time in reflection. He should know what he believes and why, and he should examine himself and his world and test what he sees against the standard he knows. But this standard is not presented as the word of God in this book.

One other problem with the book is the choice of the material. Some of it really shines — some of the most sublime passages in the English language are reprinted here. But some of it is really opaque; the reader comes away wondering what the point of that passage was. And these two are intermingled freely and, in the latter chapters, sometimes outnumber the sublime. Given that the intended audience is not known for it's reading habits, I think some editing (rearranging if not removing lesser material from this 500+ page book) would serve the purpose of the book well.

Please don't misunderstand me. This not a bad book. There is wonderful material here. But I was hoping to find a book I could drop in the hands of the nephew I see once a year or give a foster child who's leaving my house. This is not that book. This book will require someone looking over the boy's shoulder. For a son, that's not a problem. For any other boy, it's not something we can assume.

I would give this work 3 out of 5 stars — definitely worth reading, but very flawed.

No comments: