Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: "7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness" by Eric Metaxas

In 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas endeavors to return readers to a clear and correct understanding of "manhood" by answering two questions: 'What is a man?' and 'What makes a man great?' Metaxas seeks to counter what he sees (and I agree) as misunderstandings of manliness as either brutish bullying to get one's own way or moral weakness in order to get along with everybody.

These questions are never addressed directly in the book after the introduction, but Metaxas seeks to provide an answer to them by giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of seven men that he believes deserved to be identified as great: George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), and Charles Colson. In doing so, he tries to set these men up as examples to be followed, as role models worth imitating.

I think he succeeds to a great extent. However, if one were to read the short biographies without reading the introduction, one might come away thinking that each of the subjects was a good man who largely succeeded in his own life, but might not catch the Metaxas' intent to identify true manhood.

Metaxas demonstrates that greatness is neither age-dependent nor country-dependent. Each died in a different decade of life — 60s, 70s, 40s, 30s, 50s, 80s, and 70s — and most reached their pinnacle of greatness near the end of their lives. One criticism, though, could be leveled against Metaxas because he limited his choice of subjects to those who came from the broader western cultures — the USA, Germany, England, Scotland, and Poland. He could have broadened the scope of his subjects by writing, for instance, on Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. (Side note: Mandela would have been an "odd man out" as all of the subjects of Metaxas' biographies have died — or, as a Kenyan friend has said, "They are past tense.")

At least one reviewer has already taken Metaxas to task for his heavy reliance on secondary sources. But, 7 Men is not intended to be a scholarly treatment of the lives of these men. Rather, they are used to illustrate Metaxas' thesis (in my reading of the book) that greatness, that true manliness is demonstrated when one stands firm on one's convictions even when such a stance leads to rejection, ridicule, suffering, and even death. In this case, reliance on secondary sources is not a detriment.
 
7 Men gives a good introduction to the lives of these 7 men who are admirable. But it goes beyond that to show the foundation of their greatness. This is a good read; highly recommended.

I read the Kindle version. Both the Kindle and the hardcover editions are scheduled for release on 30 April 2013. I received a pre-publication copy of 7 Men from the publisher, through their BookSneeze blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review. Disclosure
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