Book review: The Way of Men by Jack Donovan

There are many Manosphere bloggers and authors out there with books, and each one addresses different aspects of the question of what it means to be a man in the 21st Century:

  • Roosh's Bang addresses a practical application of game.
  • Mark Sisson's books address health and fitness in line with what our genetics always wanted us to do (though, to be clear, Mark Sisson probably does not consider himself a "Manosphere" blogger per se).
  • Captain Capitalism addresses the fundamental economic truths about the yawning abyss of the ongoing depression that we're staring into today.
  • Vox Day addresses the question of God and religion in The Irrational Atheist, which as far as I'm concerned is required reading for each and every man, whether he be a believer or not.
  • Frost's Freedom Twenty Five is the first, and so far only, book that I've seen that puts everything together, and offers a five-step plan towards making yourself the best possible man you can be.

Every one of these books is excellent. Every one is strongly recommended to any young man. Yet none of them address the one fundamental question that still has not been answered: what does it mean to BE a man?

Jack Donovan's latest book is one that I reference and cite quite frequently in my writing on masculinity and the Red Pill. This is because Donovan is the first man- hell, person- that I have seen who truly seems to get to the core of what defines us as men. Donovan's book starts with the basic premise that manliness, in essence, can be distilled down into 4 key virtues: Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honour. He then goes into what exactly each one of these virtues means. Overarching his discussion of what it means to be a man are two basic concepts:

  • Being a good man and being good at being a man are two often very separate things
  • The Way of Men is the way of the Gang, and the four masculine virtues are needed in order for a gang to be effective
Donovan's book does not make for upbeat reading. It does not promise to make you healthier, stronger, more attractive to women, or more interesting. It is much more than any of these things. It is, simply put, an explanation in plain and simple English, and in less than 200 pages of rather large (and I thought  rather poor) font, of what it means to be good at being a man. If you are looking for self-validation, self-improvement, or self-realisation, this is NOT the book for you. If, however, you seek to know what it takes to be good at being a man, this book will show you. It will also shock you and profoundly depress you in the process, but given that you will come away understanding what it takes to be a man, I'd say that's a fair price.

Donovan's writing style is terse, his words are chosen carefully to deliver maximum impact. His skill as a wordsmith really shows up in passages like this one:
A man is not merely a man but a man among men, in a world of men. Being good at being a man has more to do with a man's ability to succeed with men and within groups of men than it does with a man's relationship to any woman or any group of women. When someone tells a man to be a man, [he is] telling him to be more like other men, more like the majority of men, and ideally more like the men whom other men hold in high regard.
Simple, meaty, truthful, and profound. It is difficult to carry on this kind of quality for long. That Donovan manages to create an entire book of this quality is quite an achievement. The only other author that I've seen who manages to combine that kind of logic, wit, and power in every sentence is Vox Day, and for similar reasons- like Vox, Donovan actually knows what he's talking about.

In my reading of his book, I found it split into three parts. The first part is simple enough: an explanation of the Way of the Gang, and a breakdown of that explanation into the four tactical virtues. His explanation of each tactical virtue contains much wisdom, all of it recognisable to the Red Pill crowd. Take, for instance, Jack's writing on the tactical virtue of Mastery:
Until you can function as a competent member of the group and carry your own weight, you are a supplicant and a drag on the collective. A child is a child, but an incompetent adult is a beggar. One of the problems with massive welfare states is that they make children or begars of us all, and as such are an affront and a barrier to adult masculinity. It has become cliched comedy for men and women to laugh at men who are concerned with being competent. The "men refuse to stop and ask for directions" joke never seems to get old for women, who are more comfortable with dependence, or socialist types, because reducing men to a childlike state of supplication and submission to state bureaucrats is required for big-government welfare states to function. Masculine loathing of dependence is a bulwark to the therapeutic mother state.
It just doesn't get much more truthful than that.

The second part is probably the most depressing bit of the book. It observes that while civilisation has undoubtedly been built through male efforts- much to the ongoing chagrin of revisionist feminist historians- civilisation is also in many ways a rejection of the masculine virtues, a way of keeping the most dangerous elements of manliness in check by feminising them, by seeking to curtail the excesses of the Way of the Gang. It observes that when men become too feminised, as they have by this point in the 21st Century, they begin to lose their own sense of self. They become lost in the fantasy worlds that they build for themselves, often out of sheer frustration at being unable to express their masculine identities, spending hours playing fantasy football and video games (yes, I'm guilty of this), and indulging in the latest sports craze at the gym, whether it be CrossFit of P90X or stone-lifting. One particularly trenchant observation:
It's only a mattter of time before someone comes up with a way to market a fitness craze where people run around spearing rubber mammoths.
Jack uses a very good comparison between chimpanzee and bonobo society to show where civilisation has taken us. Chimpanzee society is male-dominated, predicated on aggressive competition between men who struggle daily for the best food, the best sleeping spots, and the best females. Sounds rather a lot like our primal ancestors, actually. Bonobo society, however, is female-dominated, with males basically acting as afterthoughts. (Donovan's description of the way in which two tribes of bonobo apes meet and determine status is both hilarious and sad- and shows why matriarchy is never, ever going to work for humans.) Donovan makes the incontrovertible point that a female-led society will inevitably emasculate men to the point where they become completely ancillary to the functioning of society. His method of chaining empirical evidence regarding Great Ape behaviour with observations on modern society is quite impressive and highly effective.

The last two chapters make up the final third of the book, and it is here that Donovan makes his most startling point: the Way of the Gang is an inevitable intermediate period between civilisations, as the current female-dominated society breaks down completely and reverts to gang-style divisions between men. His argument is that men need the Way of the Gang, and therefore the Way of Men, in order to become men again. He's not wrong. We have lost so much masculinity in society by now that men are brought up without understanding the first thing about how to be male. Donovan closes the book by detailing the best ways to start your own Gang, the best ways to become good at being a man.

The Way of Men is not a happy book. It is not a self-help book. Though it is an easy book to read, it is not an easy book to digest. The arguments contained within are almost as depressing as they are profound, and no less important for that. This book will show you what we have lost as a civilisation- and what will be required to get it back.

Verdict: 5/5. Required reading for anyone in the Manosphere.

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