Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Book of Man by William J. Bennett








    Boys need heroes to embody the everlasting qualities of manhood:  Honor, duty, valor, and integrity.  Without such role models, boys will naturally choose perpetual childhood over the rigors of becoming men..


    Too many men waste time in pointless and soulless activities, unmindful of the responsibilites, uncaring of their pursuits.  Have we forgotten how to raise men, how to lead our boys into manhood? (from the prologue)





  William J. Bennett has done it again. I had just heard him on Focus on the Family talking about the plight of boys and young men. He discussed with Jim Daly how men are growing up in a fatherless society that gives them no positive or heroic role models. Thus the idea for The Book of Man was born. When Thomas Nelson publishers offered this book to review, I eagerly snatched it up.

As I expected, I was not disappointed. This is a fantastic book and a book that boys need to read or have read to them. I personally have added it to my son's reading list.


Bennett has compiled inspiring stories, poems essays and profiles from ancient history to modern times about men acting like, well, men. Real men. Not men who worry about being politically correct or men who think impregnating women without feeling any sense of responsibility toward their own offspring is a sign of manhood. The men in these essays knew the responsibilities of manhood and weren't afraid to take hold of the reins of their life and say, “I can and will do what is right and even die for it.”

The book is broken up into six sections: Man in War; Man at Work; Man in Play, Sports, and Leisure, Man in the Polis; Man with Woman and Children;and Man in Prayer and Reflection.

The essays include speeches by ancient men like the Greek general, Pericles who had to give a funeral oration for all the men who died in the twenty-seven year war between Sparta and Athens; The Campaigns of Alexander the Great told by Arrian a Roman historian; and Colin Powell's response to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He includes poems by Shakespeare, W. B. Yeats, Browning and Wordsworth and profiles of real life men like Donovan Campbell a Princeton graduate who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as a marine and he includes profiles of Navy Seals and the Navy Seal creed.

He records romantic letters written by men such as General Washington, Leo Tolstoy and Duff Cooper to their respective fiancees and a fantastic essay on “True and False Manliness” by James Freeman Clarke. He has a couple of stories titled “Teddy Roosevelt with His Children” and “Johnathan Edwards with His children”. He's also included several prayers by presidents: Kennedy, Carter, Reagan FDR, and Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in addition to others.

What I've listed is only a scratch off the tip of the iceberg. So many other enriching stories are in this book, giving a paradigm for young males today to aspire to.

Each essay was carefully selected for its quality to inspire boys to be men. Some of the writers are famous. Some are obscure but whose story deserves to be told. Some of the men are people who called to talk to Bennett on his radio show.

 After my previous post relating the desperate thirst my sons had for heroic males in literature (both of whom have grown up fatherless, I might add) and on the crest of the movie Courageous (for a review of Rand Alcorn's novelization of the movie you can go here) this book comes at a perfect time.



I think that this book would be a great read aloud for the family every night.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald






  I had to write a review of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald because of the impact it had on my sons. At the time I read this book I had two sons: my biological son, Derek and my foster son Coleman. Coleman has since gone back to live with his mother but while he was here we had a ritual of reading the Bible, saying our prayers, and reading a book before going to bed.

At first I was reluctant to read such an “old fashioned Victorian” sort of book. I mean, a book like this cannot rate very high on the “cool” scale, right?

Wrong. My sixteen and twelve year old sons loved this book. Let me give a synopsis and then I'll tell you why they enjoyed this book so much.

Princess Irene has been sent to live in a palace away from her father, the King. Why? Because underneath the ground in a mountain is a whole city of goblins who intend to kidnap the princess and force her to marry the Goblin King's son. What Princess Irene's father does not realize is that for many years the Goblins have been slowly tunneling toward the palace where the princess lives and plan to come up from the basement of the palace in order to snatch her.

Luckily for the princess she has some help. First of all, she has a grandmother who lives in a tower in the palace. To everyone but Irene this tower is deserted and decrepit. Only Irene can see her grandmother. Although not explicitly stated, it seems the grandmother is angel from heaven come to help and protect Irene.

And then there's Curdie. Curdie is a boy, not much older than Irene, who works in the mines with his father. While the other miners are wary of the goblins, Curdie isn't afraid at all. He knows that the goblins are cowards and retreat if anyone puts up a good fight. And rhymes. They hate poetry. So Curdie cheerfully works through the night. If goblins surface from underground, he fearlessly “fights and recites” back at them. Curdie turns out to be an invaluable friend to Princess Irene and ultimately protects her from the Goblin King.

Lest you think Princess Irene is a wilting wall flower with no personality of her own, she is a vibrantly, strong young girl who knows right from wrong and how to stand up for what she believes in.

But she is a girl and never has to prove her worth by acting like a guy. Unlike just about every movie out in Hollywood today where the female protagonists  prove their equality with men by emasculating them. Let's be honest: today’s movie 'heroines' are basically men with female parts.

Curdie is very strong in who he is and isn't afraid to fight goblins, or care for and protect Irene. But while Curdie is Irene's hero, she is his heroine because she has many qualities that he benefits from as well, such as her strong sense of propriety and how to act based on those principals. She teaches him to trust in the unseen and follow her even when his practical mind says they're going the wrong way. In point of fact, throughout the story Curdie and Irene take turns “saving” each other from danger but without Irene sacrificing her innocence or femininity.

My! How counter modern culture.

I was concerned that my teenage boys were going to roll their eyes at this Victorian depiction of nascent love.
Wrong again.  They wanted to be Curdie. Boys aren't inspired by movies that depict the women as smarter and stronger than they are. They want to be heroes.

Curdie and Princess Irene are still kids at the end of this book but MacDonald promises a sequel where they grow up and get married. My boys' response?

“Let's go buy the sequel!”

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis both credit Macdonald's The Princess and the Goblin and it's sequel, The Princess and Curdie as the inspiration for their fantasy books. That's reason enough to read them, but if you want your son to read how young boys use to “man up” back in the day, I suggest you read them The Princess and the Goblin.


For more book reviews for teens you can go here

I own this book.  If you'd like to buy it, please do so by clicking on the link below.



Saturday, October 8, 2011

Night of the Cossack by Thomas Blubaugh







Cossacks were members of several peasant groups of Russian and Polish descent. They lived in autonomous communal settlements, especially in the Ukraine, until the early 20th century. In return for special privileges, they served in the cavalry under the czars. They were well known for their horsemanship. They raided villages for supplies, women and young men to increase or replenish their ranks. Eventually they became a part of the Russian army.
(From the author's website)


  Nathan Hertzfield is a young Russian boy living with his widowed mother and younger brother. During the night a band of Cossacks raid his village. Many are killed while their houses are pillaged and burned. Nathan is kidnapped by one of the Cossacks, a man named Nikolai, and taken back to their camp. At first their relationship is somewhat turbulent.

“You're obstinate, little man. You'll make a fine Cossack.”
 Nikolai said, “I've questions for you. You were born in the village of Gagra, no?”
“Yes.”
“Good. You're Russian by birth.”
“Yes.”
“And you're a Christian?”
“A Christian? No.”
“What then?”
“I'm a Jew,” said Nathan proudly.
“A Jew, you say. You won't be when we return to camp.”
“How can that be? I was born a Jew. How can I not be a Jew?”
“The fact you're a Jew doesn't matter to me. You're young, healthy, and trainable. This is all that matters. You're going to need a new name. What is your name?”
“Nathan, Nathan Hertzfield.”
“Your name will no longer be Nathan Hertzfield. You're Stepan Ivanov now.”

The rest of the story is an exciting adventure where Nathan, now Stepan, becomes like a son to Nikolai. For many years they live together and become very close as they live the gypsy yet war like life of the Cossacks. As a lover of Russian literature I found the descriptions of the culture of the Cossacks informative and very interesting.

Stepan soon comes to understand why Nikolai wanted to hide his Jewish identity. It is 1904 in Russia and the Jewish pograms are underway. Eventually it becomes so dangerous that Stepan can no longer stay with the Cossacks or in Russia.

Living and running and fighting with the Cossacks is only one chapter of Stepan's life. War, political upheaval and danger from another Cossack boy who tries to pin a crime on him takes him across Europe in what is a kind of “Jewish underground railroad” where he meets many other Jews who are trying to make it to freedom and safe from persecution. Having to change his name more than once he finally makes it to America.

Thomas Blubaugh wrote this story about his grandfather who immigrated to America from Russia. He never met him or learned much about him so Blubaugh decided to make up his own story about his grandfather's life.

This book is an excellent coming of age story that would be wonderful for adolescent boys (and girls- I always read 'male' literature as a kid.) It is also a source of good historical fiction as it accurately portrays living conditions in turn of the century Russia, the plight of the Jewish people and how many of them came to America, via Europe.

Blubaugh's writing style is seamless and fluid. His characters are believable and interesting. On top of that it has a great story line. All the ingredients of a great book. It was easy and fun to read. I read it in a couple of days. I recommend this book to everyone.

I received a free copy of this book by the author.  For more information you can go to Thomas Blubaugh's website:
http://nightofthecossack.com

For another review of this book you can visit the blog Reflections in Hindsight  here




Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fyodor Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart






 Fyodor Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart is another biography in the Christian Encounter Series published by Thomas Nelson. Since Dostoevsky is one of my favorite authors I eagerly looked forward to reading this book.

Leithart takes a different approach than the other authors of the Christian Encounter biographies in that instead of merely chronicling the life of one of the greatest writers in-not only Russian history but the world, he writes in story form in a style reminiscent of Dostoevsky's own writing. We find out about the events in Dostoevsky's life as the author himself recounts it to his friend, Maikov, over cigarettes and vodka at home while his third wife, Anna, carefully attends to her beloved husband's needs.

It is through the “voice” of Dostoevsky that we learn of his strict upbringing with a disciplinarian father tempered by a loving mother, his personal contact with serfs that would affect his sympathy with their plight. We hear him tell his friend about his work with the socialists, his subsequent imprisonment in Siberian labor camps and his near- execution that was called off at the last second. We learn of his conversion to Christianity because of the devotion of a wife of one of the other prisoners who chose to share in her husband's punishment rather than be separated from him.

As Dostoevsky tells Maikov about the women he loved, his fellow prisoners, the socialists, and the demons that tore at his soul as he strove to overcome his own sinful nature only to fall at the feet of Christ begging for mercy, we gain an insight to the ideas and characters that make up the colorful and exciting novels that this tormented man wrote.

When I read a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I feel as though I'm stepping into a whirlwind. Now I understand it is because this emotional, unstable, epileptic man's life was a whirlwind all the way down to his untimely death at the age of fifty-nine.

Anna woke to find Fyodor staring at her.
“Light a candle, Anna, and hand me the New Testament. I have been lying here awake for three hours now, and only now I have clearly realized that I shall die today.”
She brought him the Testament he had received from Natalya Fonvizina in Siberia. He opened it and read the first passage that appeared to his eye. It was Matthew 13:14-15: 'And Jesus said to John, Delay not, for thus it becomes us to fulfill the great truth.'
“Do you hear, Anna? Delay not?! That means I must die.”
….Anna held his hand and felt his pulse get feebler and feebler. By the time the doctor arrived, Fyodor Dostoevsky was already dead.
Anna was hysterical. “O, whom have I lost! Whom have I lost!”
Involuntarily Maikov broke out, “Whom has Russia lost! Whom has Russia lost!” (pg. 174, 175 the Epilogue)

If you are a fan of this influential Russian author's work. This book is an excellent resource.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.