The Two Greatest Books On Manhood:
The Way of Men and Manhood in the Making
There are quite a few websites about manhood and masculinity on the web now. The Art of Manliness is probably the biggest and one of the best. The Order of Man is growing. Wolf and Iron is in the mix. There are a number of others that just talk about manhood, as well as those that post bro stuff (I.e. brobible), print magazines with web content (I.e. askmen), and red pill websites like Return of Kings (where I have published some articles that are less appropriate for this site).
Those concerned with manhood and masculinity like Art of Manliness and Order of Man tend to take the stance that manhood is relative. When Ryan Michler of the Order of Man does a podcast interview with someone he always asks them what manhood means to them (or some variant of that).
When people write about manhood it is tempting to describe it in less definitive and more relative terms. Manhood can be anything according to them. Feminists consider masculinity something that women can attain. Single mothers say they are both mother and father to their children. But these are all falsehoods.
Manhood isn’t relative. Women can’t attain masculinity without giving up their femininity. Single mothers are not fathers to their children.
To truly understand what manhood and masculinity are you only need two books.
The Way of Men
The Way of Men by Jack Donovan has fast become a classic on masculinity and manhood. Donovan comes to his conclusions about masculinity in a way that combines evolutionary psychology and philosophy. Imagine a tribe somewhere in prehistoric times. This tribe likely subsists as hunter-gatherers. There are anywhere from 50 to 200 people in the tribe. And there are dangerous animals and neighboring tribes nearby.
Men in small bands protect and feed each other and the tribe. But what makes a man reliable to the other men in his band? How do the men in the band know when a male is no longer a boy and can be relied upon as a man in the band during dangerous encounters?
That is the premise Donovan takes in this book. He concludes that there are four virtues, what he calls the tactical virtues, that demonstrate a man’s worth to other men: strength, courage, mastery, and honor.
If a male demonstrates these he can be relied upon in the band, and is therefore welcomed as a man amongst men.
Donovan goes in-depth describing what each of these mean to the gang of men protecting and supporting the rest of the tribe. He also draws analogies from the history of Rome and his some very insightful chapters on society today. Once you read his chapter on the bonobo masturbation society (a.k.a. 21st century western nations) you will reflect on your life and society intensely.
Since the books rise to success Donovan has done and continues to do speaking engagements, written two more books (this one and this one, both great), and has a very interesting blog where you can read more of his essays and follow his journey of being in a tribe. Tribalism is his topic of choice for the last few years.
Manhood in the Making
To put it simply, all genuine studies of manhood and masculinity stem from David Gilmore’s Manhood in the Making. Gilmore is an anthropologist who did field research in Spain. This book is a cross-cultural analysis of the commonalities in the requirements societies have for their males to be seen as men. This includes not only analyzing the rites of passage to manhood seen across the globe but researching those societies that do not have rites of passage for their boys as well as accounting for the few societies where manhood is atypical.
Gilmore draws many insights from the research done but the most important are the three things a male must demonstrate he is able to do before he is seen as a man by his people: create a family, provide for his a family, and protect his family.
Whereas Donovan’s tactical virtues allow a male to be a man amongst men, Gilmore’s requirements of providing, protecting, and procreating allow a male to be a man amongst his people. Parents do not allow their daughters to marry men who cannot demonstrate their ability to do these three critical things. Perhaps that is why arranged marriages tend to last.
Gilmore gives examples from across the globe. His conclusions ring true whether the cultures being analyzed live in the Amazon rainforest, the plains of Africa, islands in the Pacific, or 20th century China.
He concludes his book with some of the most meaningful and lasting insights about masculinity that apply today or more than ever. You would never guess it was published in 1990.
One of the most important of those insights is that masculinity was forged and defined by the needs societies had for their men. Donovan also works from this perspective. Throughout nearly all of human existence across nearly all cultures men were needed to do the dangerous of work of leaving the safety of their home to hunt game in a dangerous environment, protect their homes from violent intruders, violently intrude upon others, or gather ill-gotten materials.
Societies without these needs will not have masculine males because masculinity is a behavioral response to existence in a dangerous world.
What It Means To Us
As you read these books you inevitably ask yourself, “What requirements of manhood does our modern society impose upon males?” It’s eye opening when you realize that society doesn’t need men to be men, yet judges men by these same requirements examined in these two books.
Our society does not require men to be strong. A male can go through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood without needing much strength. But when we see weak males we know they are not masculine. As result we have to impose strength requirements on ourselves by exercising.
The same is true of everything else Donovan and Gilmore show is needed for manhood. We don’t need men to make families but when males show no interest in the opposite sex we know that something is wrong with them. We don’t need men to provide but the males who stay at home and collect welfare are seen as deadbeats.
This is what inspired me to write my own book on manhood.
Indeed these two books alone define masculinity and manhood in absolute terms, and are therefore must-reads.