THE ART OF MANLINESS by Brett and Kate McKay (Book Review)

>At some point last year I stumbled upon a website called The Art of Manliness, “a blog dedicated to uncovering the lost art of being a man.” I believe another blog I follow linked to an article there, and I got a kick out of what I found. The About page from their website explains what it’s all about:

The Art of Manliness is authored by husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay. It features articles on helping men be better husbands, better fathers, and better men. In our search to uncover the lost art of manliness, we’ll look to the past to find examples of manliness in action. We’ll analyze the lives of great men who knew what it meant to “man up” and hopefully learn from them. And we’ll talk about the skills, manners, and principles that every man should know.

I found many of the articles interesting (for example, how to’s about using various tools; entering a room with confidence; leaping from a speeding car; and reading lists of “manly” fiction and adventure stories), and a good blend of practical information and tongue-in-cheek humor. When the book came out, I bought it on something of a whim, just because I thought, and still feel, that the idea and the themes are pretty cool. It sat on my dresser for some time before I finally got around to reading it. My wife actually read it before I did, and gave it the thumbs-up.

The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man is essentially an extension of the website into book form. It is a collection of articles that provide information on everything from practical skills, like how to be a perfect houseguest, to some that lean farther toward the humorous (how to give a man hug, for example). There are tips on fighting like a gentleman, instructions on how to change a flat tire, and musings on fatherhood and providing children with rites of passage. There is even a section detailing how to land a plane in an emergency.

Fun as it is, the theme that runs through it is a compelling one. Men really have dropped the ball when it comes to being gentlemen. The book strives to get across the point that we can look to some of the cultural norms from “back in the day” and reclaim some of those “manly” attributes without being the misogynist pigs that dominated much of those eras. Being mindful of how we treat other people, owning our responsibilities, and always putting our best foot forward are notions that plenty of us could do better at living up to. The ideas are simple, and it does make one think. I don’t think one must be a man to benefit from the bulk of the advice either. The last chapter on Virtue is particularly interesting, and would be beneficial to all readers, men and women alike.

That’s not to say I totally agree with everything written here. In particular, I found some of the examples of “real life” or “today’s man” a little off-putting by the time I reached the end of the book. It seems to suggest that every man is some white collar corporate stooge trying to make his way up the ladder. I don’t recall one instance of an anecdote relating to a blue collar working man being used in the text, and that is unfortunate. Believe me, there is just as much stress and irritation to deal with in the grimy world of punching out parts and building machines as there is in cubicle hell. Nor was much thought given to what I think is the pinnacle of manliness — sticking it to the friggin Man. If there’s anything I find particularly loathesome it’s how men have become such a collection of two-faced suck-ups. We aren’t all striving to get that corner office. Some of us, frankly, couldn’t give less of a shit about that. The very things that have made so many men such jerks needing a smack upside the head have really fucked up our culture and world too. Remaking that entire hierarchical construct is going to take a lot of men, and women, putting their best feet forward to overcome. Trying to be a good man while buying into the rest of the bullshit about “how things are” is just pissing into the hurricane.

Regardless of these minor quibbles, I enjoyed the book. Aesthetically, it’s wonderful. The cover art is done so that the book looks old and battered, and the paper used for the jacket feels somehow different from the usual trade paperback — I don’t know what it is, some kind of matte finish or something, but I like it. It’s easy to read, with lots of sidebars and quotations, and the interior art made me chuckle more than once. Clearly a lot of thought and care went into producing this book, and it shows in the final product. I can definitely appreciate that.

A fine effort from the McKays, an effort that continues to gather steam online. I’m sure everyone knows a man or two who could really benefit from reading a book like this!

6 thoughts on “THE ART OF MANLINESS by Brett and Kate McKay (Book Review)”

  1. >I thought I had that book on my shelf, but I was wrong. I have The Modern Gentleman: A Guide To Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice. Got it for a friend of mine, but then I couldn't bear to part with it. I'll have to check this one out as well!

  2. >Kirsten, the book you have sounds pretty interesting too (I like the "and vice" part).David, did you hear the podcast interview that Matthew Mayo did on the site?

  3. >I wouldn't say it's geared toward elite white males; I'd say maybe wannabe elite males. There's nothing racial about it at all, but it definitely seems to be about men striving to be part of the "upper crust" of society. Even so, the bulk of the information is relevant to anyone aiming for a little self improvement.

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