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When I first started reading The book of Man, Readings on the path to Manhood by William J. Bennett I was mesmerized. It is a massive book, over 500 pages long that is chock-full of speeches, poems, narrations and letters from some of the most famous men in history; everyone from Plato to Seneca, Booker T Washington to Lord Baden Powell. The passages are organized into sections such as “Men at War”, “Men at Work”, and “Men with Women and Children”.
I dove into reading this book, skipping the introduction and just reading the literary selections themselves. I was hooked. I read and I read and I read some more. I read the piece about Ernest Shackelton to my six year old son at bedtime. I reluctantly passed the book over to my husband one evening so he could read a bit while I folded laundry. He read one of the many selections from Theodore Roosevelt. “You just don’t hear presidents talk like this anymore,” was my husband’s impressed response.
I told my mother in law about this book. “It would be a great present for my sister-in-law’s new husband!” I said. “This is the perfect Christmas gift for just about any man you know.” All the while I was reading the historical selections and being inspired by the wisdom and examples of all of these great men. I did note that there seemed to be a lot of Christian men included and not any Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or other religious types sited, but I was willing to let that go because there were so many atheists in the mix. That somehow seemed to balance the text out.
Finally, I got around to reading William Bennett’s introduction to his book. As a former teacher, I was really interested in what he had to say because he was Secretary of Education while I was in grade school. I loved so many of the passages he had chosen for his book, and was ready with an open mind to hear what he wrote. That’s when my opinion about this book started changing.
Simply put, William Bennett’s thesis is that society is in trouble today because men are not “stepping up to the plate”. They need to put down the video games, marry the mother of their children, go to church (or war), and start contributing to society. Bennett’s introduction was full of strong opinions like this which I listened to, thought about, and saw a bit of truth in, even if I did not agree with his thinking 100%. (The husband, fathers, uncles and male friends in my life are doing just fine thank you.)
But then I read this sentence on page xxi: “So what’s wrong?…Gay culture often parades itself in a flamboyant display and challenge to traditional masculinity.” What? Gay culture? Really? I am a member of the United Methodist Church whose motto is “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” I find Bennett’s choice of wording in this sentence about gays, deeply offensive. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he is not homophobic. I do not believe that being gay is a culture you choose, but rather the perfectly acceptable way God made you. Considering that Bennett so loves quoting Plato, he should know that.
P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinion and review.