Friday, 25 March 2011

Review: The Ulltimate Man's Survival Guide

The Ultimate Man's Survival Guide by Frank Miniter (2009)

One of the more alarming signs that Western civilisation is in free fall is the way in which the last two generations have seen men cut off from the very concept of masculinity.  Not merely ignored, modern society actively belittles, scorns, and derides men and masculinity to the point where modern Western males are left to degenerate into feminised metrosexuals with all the airs of over-groomed eunuchs, or slovenly man children who rarely bath and spend all their free time in "man caves" drinking lager, playing video games, and growing old rather than up. 

Small wonder that in recent years there's been a reaction as men yearn to recapture their denied heritage.   In the wake of this has come a small flood of books offering to teach men their manhood.  Some have tried to hand men New Age absurdities cut from whole cloth such as Iron John or hanging out in sweat lodges.  Others focus on superficialities about tying bow ties or buying straight razors.   Outdoor writer Frank Miniter's The Ultimate Man's Survival Guide aims for something more practical such as how to survive in the woods, how to pick out a gun, how to administer first aid, and, yes, how to tie a bow tie.  Mixed in with the practical stuff Miniter tries to give some philosophical underpinnings to masculinity with discussions on the character traits that define manliness, answering the question of what constitutes a gentleman, anecdotes about men's men, and whole chapters on codes of conduct. 

It's a laudable effort and much of the advice is actually useful.  You won't learn how to land a jetliner or shutdown a nuclear reactor, but you will find out how to sharpen a knife, what films a man should see, the difference between legalisms and codes of conduct, and the importance of manly vices.  Perhaps the most important criticism of the book is that Miniter tries to cover too much in too small a volume, so much of his material is often superficial and unsatisfying.  He also isn't as selective as one would like.  A list from one major code of conduct that Miniter finds impressive would have been useful.  Providing a shopping cart from Jesus to Buddha gives the impression that Miniter can't make up his mind.  Some of it also comes across as naive, such as when the author is disappointed when his Red Indian guide doesn't end the hunt with a native ritual.  Just as well.  I always thought that thanking a animal for letting you kill and butcher him is asking a bit much from the beast. 

This is best seen as a casual read–something to whet the appetite on a rainy afternoon, but as a guide to manliness, it's more a starting point than a destination.

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