In 1993, Dr. Bill Bennett – Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan - published The Book of Virtues, in which he presented examples of moral and immoral behavior, from a wide range of sources, aimed primarily (though not exclusively) at children and young adults. Bennett followed this volume up two years later with The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey. His goal, again, was to present examples of good and bad behavior from both fictional and historical sources. This time, the examples were organized to resemble waypoints along life’s journey (thus, the subtitle). In both volumes, Dr. Bennett wanted to present examples, factual and fictional, on how to profitably live one’s life.
In more recent years, Dr. Bennett’s focus has shifted to some degree, from presenting examples of how to live as individuals to looking at the past and future of America as a whole. He’s published a fascinating and comprehensive three-volume set on world and American history – America: The Last Best Hope (Volume I): From the Age of Discovery to a World at War, America: The Last Best Hope (Volume II): From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom, and A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears – and written extensively on terrorism and Islam.
With the publication of The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, Dr. Bennett has combined the two areas of focus into a most enjoyable and useful hybrid.
The Book of Man follows in the stylistic footsteps of The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass by taking fictional and historical examples of how men should conduct themselves in civil society (and all too often don’t). These examples run the gamut in terms of political and religious viewpoints – “contributors” include St. Francis of Assisi, General Robert E. Lee, Billy Graham, and Walt Whitman, just to name four – and go from the ancient Greeks to the present day.
Dr. Bennett divides The Book of Man into six sections, each covering a significant aspect of a man’s life: Man in War; Man at Work; Man in Play, Sports & Leisure; Man in the Polis (Politics); Man with Woman & Children; Man in Prayer & Reflection. Each section contains dozens of readings from sources throughout time and cultures – Man in War, for example, gathers together figures as varied as Alexander the Great, Winston Churchill, and Colin Powell. Sprinkled among the individual stories, memoir excerpts, and poems are profiles of significant men with a lesson for modern men and boys – Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy, NBA great Pistol Pete Maravich, Mario Andretti, Jaime Escalante, and many others.
Dr. Bennett notes in the Introduction that the selections presented in The Book of Man are primarily positive ones – “they point to maxims, models, and standards of behavior.” While there are, he acknowledges, lessons to be learned from negative examples – where men have failed or succumbed to temptation or bad judgment – Dr. Bennett believes that boys and men today need lifting up, and he selected these readings with an eye to “raise the sights and aspirations of boys and men.”
Note those last three words: “boys and men.” This is the key to just how good The Book of Man is. It is not just a kids’ book, nor is it just a parenting guide on how to raise boys. It is rather a guidebook for males wherever they are on life’s journey – fathers and sons, singles and marrieds, young and old. The Book of Man is an excellent book to read in small bites – alongside your morning devotions, perhaps – or to read from cover to cover in a few sittings. Either way, you will be well served.