- - Friday, October 7, 2011

By William J. Bennett
Thomas Nelson, $34.99 546 pages

Halfway through “The Book of Man,” William Bennett’s delightful survey of writings on what it means to be a man, the author treats readers to a segment titled “Hunting the Grisly - Theodore Roosevelt” in which he writes the following:

“By now you have noticed that Theodore Roosevelt appears frequently in this book. That is because Roosevelt’s manliness is impossible to doubt. In addition to being president of the United States, Roosevelt was a successful naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, and soldier. He served his country, his countrymen, and his family with unquestionable loyalty. And if that wasn’t enough to prove his valor, he hunted grizzly bears in his free time.”

Mr. Bennett then offers readers an account of the hunting adventure written by Roosevelt himself:

“Once I killed a grisly in this manner …

“One day while camped near the Bitter Root Mountains in Montana I found that a bear had been feeding on the carcass of a moose which lay some five miles from the little open glade in which my tent was pitched, and I made up my mind to try to get a shot at it that afternoon….

“In moccasined feet I trod softly through the soundless woods. Under the dark branches it was already dusk, and the air had the cool chill of evening. As I neared the clump where the body lay, I walked with redoubled caution, watching and listening with strained alertness.”

Not surprisingly, Teddy got his bear.

The passage is worth noting at length because it is in many waysemblematic of Mr. Bennett’s approach to the vast volume of material he shares. Throughout the book, Mr. Bennett makes ample and eloquent use of first-person accounts from history’s titans (presidents, writers, philosophers and clergymen) and lesser-known men who earned their way to the book by acts of bravery and decency. And each segment is preceded by Mr. Bennett’s own pithy explanation of why a particular selection was chosen.

Part guide for young men on the way to manhood, part celebration of the best in our human selves, the book is organized into six parts: “Man in War,” “Man at Work,” “Man at Play,” “Man in the Polis,” “Man With Women and Children,” “Man in Prayer and Reflection.”

And, yes, Teddy turns up frequently in these pages.

One might ask: why this book now? Mr. Bennett, the father of two sons, writes in his introduction, “There is trouble with men today. For example, after studying today’s workforce data, author and commentator David Brooks observed that ‘in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.’”

Mr. Bennett, host of the nationally syndicated radio show “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America” and the author of 20 books, among them “The Book of Virtues” and “The Children’s Book of Virtues,” adds:

“My hope is that this book will be a healthy alternative to questionable messages that inundate boys and men every day. Let this book stand as a rough line - an approximation on the ground of our society - that helps define the extents and limits of true manhood.”

For men at war, readers find passages from Winston Churchill (“This was Their Finest Hour”) Shakespeare (“St. Crispin’s Day Speech”) and from the U.S. Navy (“Navy SEAL Creed” ) that addresses what we can expect from a man’s commitment to country and to each other. Jack London and Alexis de Tocqueville weigh in on the rewards of work. A.G. Spalding, Benjamin Franklin and Robert Louis Stevenson are on hand to talk about man in play. Noah Webster, Calvin Coolidge and Abraham Lincoln remark on man in the polis; Duff Cooper, John Stuart Mill and Plutarch on man with women and children and Robert Herrick, Sir Walter Raleigh and G.K. Chesterton reflect on prayer, its power and light.

For my part, as a wife and mother to a son and a daughter, I was particularly moved by the book’s repeated insistence that a mark of a good man is the respect he shows a woman. Mr. Bennett writes, “As you will see in the following passages, the lessons from history and virtuous men teach men to respect women, pursue them for the right reasons and weigh carefully their actions and words with them. ‘Love and respect women,’ the Italian philosopher Giuseppe Mazzini said. ‘Look to her not only for comfort but for strength and inspiration and the doubling of your intellectual and moral powers.’ “

There are few books with as much joy and insight collected in its pages as this. Read it for the letter Abraham Lincoln writes to 11-year-old Grace Bedell to grasp the intersection of manliness and gentleness.

Men will grow from this book and women will be glad for it. With “The Book of Man,” Mr. Bennett honors all.

• Carol Herman is the books editor of The Washington Times.

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