Book Review: The Art of Manliness

by Michael on February 5, 2010 · 0 comments

There are very few truly great men’s sites out there. Most feature reposts of softcore bikini photos from FHM or Maxim, reposts of gadget finds from Gizmodo or GDGT, and all the lifestyle help of a beer commercial.

And then there’s The Art of Manliness. I’ve raved about Brett and Kate McKay’s site before, and as time goes on I have even more respect for them and their classic-yet-fresh take on masculinity. Well, they recently completed their first book—and true to form, it’s not an e-book sold on Clickbank, it’s a paper-and-ink tome fittingly titled The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man.

This book delivers on its promise in spades. If you get past the swaggering Victorian dandy on the cover you’ll find practical advice that applies here and now, for almost every aspect of a man’s life.

Its eight chapters reflect all sides of the total man: “The Gentleman,” “The Friend,” “The Hero,” “The Lover,” “The Father,” “The Outdoorsman,” “The Leader” and “The Virtuous Man.” “The Gentleman,” for example, includes tips and advice on becoming well-groomed and well-mannered, from how to fold a pocket square and iron pants to the “lost art” of wet shaving with a safety razor. If you want to know the difference between the American Man Hug and the International Man Hug, how to land a plane in an emergency or how to braid your daughter’s hair, it’s in there.

As a bonus, I found Art of Manliness to be a quick, engaging read. Where the AoM site frequently discusses its topics at length, the book is concise and well-structured, quickly laying out the steps to a tip or the case for a concept and moving on.

The thread tying these tips and trivia together is the notion that what makes a man a man has never changed—it just gets lost in the noise. A well-put-together guy still has a better shot at the women, fathering is still a manly art, and a guy who practices common courtesy as well as his fighting skills still has a leg up on both the meathead and the mouse. As on their site, much of the references here are from a “golden age” of manliness that may or may not be a tad idealized, but the information is solid.

Most of this book is just plain common sense, and you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement with advice like “Stop Hanging Around with Women and Start Dating Them” and “Give and Accept Criticism Without Coming Off as a Cad.” That’s not to say there aren’t some concepts that might make you think twice: reading the McKays’ advice on “Modern Technology and the New Rules of Etiquette,” you might realize you’ve been using your cell and e-mail less like a man and more like a cross between a 14-year-old girl and Unfrozen Caveman Computer Nerd. (Yes, it IS possible to use actual grammar in an e-mail message!)

Reading deeper, another key concept surfaces: one change we’ve suffered in the modern world is that the brotherhood of men has become less of a brotherhood and more like a loose circle of disposable acquaintances. And that, son, makes you disposable too. How many of us under the age of 50 (hell, 65) have thought of joining a fraternal organization? And how often have you planned a vacation with your buddies that involved gathering firewood or catching your own dinner? I think the McKays nailed it on the head: there’s an underlying homophobia that keeps us leery of true male friendships, and a modern detachment that keeps us closed off from (or worse, antagonistic toward) our communities.

Rant over—the point is, you will learn something from The Art of Manliness, and you’ll come away a better man no matter where you come from. The first print run completely sold out before Christmas, so if you’ve already got it, bully for you! If you don’t, the second printing is now available, so make haste before it’s gone too.

The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man [Amazon.com]

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