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.

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.