Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Man Made" by Joel Stein (2012)

From the moment that Joel Stein sees the small smudge on his wife’s sonogram, signaling that they are going to have a boy, he is thrown into a panic attack of epic proportions. In reaction to this, and much to his credit, the author sets out to find what it really means to be “a man.” He is not alone in his insecurities about his own manhood. Many men, myself included, have gone to great lengths to discover the true meaning of term, and come up with some surprising conclusions.
In a most entertaining style, Mr. Stein recounts his own insecurities, and then comes up with a novel idea. He will confront his self-doubts by becoming all of the things he thinks he is not.  So, accordingly, he begins his journey into perceived “manhood”, by joining the Boy Scouts for an overnight camping trip; doing a stint of duty as a firefighter; and training with Major League Baseball Star Shawn Green. In addition to these testosterone laden exploits, he manages to find the time to take on Ultimate Fighting Champion Randy Couture; joining a stock firm as a day trader; and also doing some time in Boot Camp for three days with the Army. These are only some of the exploits which the author undertakes in his misguided quest for “manhood.”
For the record, the Fire Captain tells him via e-mail, prior to his tour with the firefighters, “Not to dismiss your entire premise, but none of the activities or skills you plan on doing define becoming a man. A man is honest, kind, and courageous, protects women, is humble, bold, moral, seeks truth, loves children, and fights for what is right.”
While battling to convince himself that he is truly “a man”, he also recounts some humorous adventures with his feminist leaning wife, and explores the societal roots of what we have come to think of as “manhood.” All of this results in a highly readable and entertaining book, which in some ways mirror my own self-doubts as a young man. Indeed, one of the reasons I joined the Navy many years ago mirror the authors own perceptions of himself as being “less than a man.” Some of those doubts can be attributed to a lack of talent in sports, or the lack of a bond formed with one’s father. I can identify with those facets of Mr. Stein’s thoughts.
This book works on so many levels; humor, self-analysis, and introspection all combine in the author’s vibrant and creative style, to bring us face to face with just what it takes to be a man in today’s world. And when all is said and done, this is a very entertaining, and uplifting book.

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