Read Like A Gent:  Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield

The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.” – Mark Twain

Reading is a necessity if you wish to be an educated man. No one can dispute that. People do tend to disagree on what material should be read, however. So when I picked up Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield, I hoped I had chosen a good book to spend my time on.

The book title is divisive. The gender politics of the last 10 years make one question if the bravado implied in a book about the manliest of men is an honest read or a provocation. Additionally, there is a religious undertone to the thoughts of the author that extends to some of the historical examples he chooses to use as an illustration tool. After reading the book, and learning more about the author, I learned that this is not simply a book designed to get clicks and start arguments, nor convert you to any one religion. This is a book meant to inspire men to realize where we are lacking in the changing times of human civilization, and what we need to do to get back to our true selves. This is a book that urges you to use the examples of others to lead as manly men in a time when leadership is sorely lacking.

The Manly Maxims

What exactly determines if a man is manly or not? Is it the physical strength he possesses or is it more than that? Mansfield believes that there are four maxims to which men should subscribe, that will make them truly manly, but there are two that were most intriguing to me.

One of the four maxims is that a man should do manly things. This might be the most elusive of the four maxims, as it is the idea that is most open to interpretation.  For Mansfield, doing manly things is as simple as achieving a mastery of behaviors. Taking action more than holding discussions. Not to say that discussion is bad, but the great men of history are known more for their actions than they are known for their words. As Paulo Coelho puts it, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” 

Another of the four maxims is that manly men tend their fields. Setting a positive example by taking care of yourself and those you care about is key to being manly. This may be the most argumentative of the four maxims, as many women would say that it is insulting to believe that men need to take care of women or that women aren’t capable of taking care of the family. However, that is an emotional reaction and not realistic to what Mansfield means here. To quote Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Humans are social beings and part of participating in society means playing a role that we are designed to embody. I dare say that we are designed for our roles before we are even born, and for men, that role is traditionally to steward their family and community in cooperation and as co-actors with other leading actors and actresses. That sense of purpose is what brings out the best in men.

The Manly Men of History

One could read the ideas and ideals of the author concerning the designed spirit of man, learn some new perspectives, and think some new thoughts. However, as Mansfield advises early into the read, the best feature of man is action. That is where Mansfield excels in delivering the point of his book. He uses the actions of great men to illustrate the guiding principles of being a manly man, which provides relevance to his writings.

The man most commonly referenced in the book is Sir Winston Churchill. Who amongst us students of history can doubt that Churchill was a manly man? His ability to lead through turbulent times, and to stand up against true evil when it wasn’t exactly the most popular choice, makes him a manly man. He was a man who believed in honor and duty. His actions and leadership inspired a nation to rise up at a time when their future days were as cloudy as a fog bank rolling in from the Thames.

Other manly men referenced in the book — Booker T. Washington and Abraham Lincoln— are predictable. Almost all aspects of life are accounted for in the selection of manly examples that Mansfield chose to share with the reader: politicians, adventurers, and religious men, all with their beginnings ranging from those of high standing to those of humble parts. All faced challenges but performed their duties as manly men.

The true challenge that many men face today is that they haven’t identified their causes in life. I believe this is one of the reasons that unmanly acts are so prevalent these days. Because of this rise, derogatory terms such as toxic masculinity have become popular. What we need more of are positive examples of masculinity, so that the distinction between manly men and bad actors can be easily seen and shown. 

The author does a great job of providing a path for the reader to walk down and discover what it means to be a manly man, and hopefully emulate those qualities through their own actions in their own lives. What Mansfield hopes to provide with his book is a guide that shows how others have found their own causes, and hopefully inspire the reader to do a self-assessment of himself and his own purpose in this life of flagging accountability. This book is a call to action for the readers to pursue their own actions and become examples to their own loved ones and community.

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