The book is a theoretical discussion about manhood and what defines a masculinity. In terms of writing style, the book is written in an engaging and clear manner. It reads well and communicates effectively without slowing down as theoretical books are often wont to do. It is an enjoyable read.
The first couple chapters introduce the concept that “the way of men is the way of the gang”. Essentially, masculinity is defined through a man’s interactions within a small group of other men gathered together for resource acquisition and mutual security. Essentially, manliness was defined by man’s position in a small war band or hunting party.
From there he describes the four tactical virtues men that defines a man’s worthiness as a man within his gang: Strength, Courage, Mastery and Honour. He makes an excellent case for these virtues being the defining traits of masculinity and I would agree with him on his chosen traits. They represent what I’ve noticed masculinity is generally defined by.
After a discussion of the virtues, he writes of how “being good at being a man” differs from “being a good man”. The four tactical virtues are the virtues that define masculinity, on who demonstrates these virtues is good at being a man. Other virtues (piety, charity, temperance, righteousness, etc.) may make a man good, but do not necessarily make a man good at being a man. (I like the implicit acceptance of virtue ethics by this book).
This distinction is important and brings this book far above most other writings I’ve read on masculinity, which usually conflate being a man with the author’s own personal morality, often to results that don’t quite sit right. Christian writings on masculinity often conflate Christian morality for males with masculinity,excluding obviously masculine men who might not follow Christian morality from being a man. Game advocates often define masculinity through a male’s attractiveness to women making masculinity dependent on female approval and implicitly denying the masculinity of men who aren’t superficially psycho-socially dominant. Society as a whole usually either defines masculinity through anti-social thuggery, reducing masculinity to nothing more than the gratification of base urges and denying the masculinity of men dedicated to higher values, or the approved beta life path, making masculinity dependent on providing for women and denying the masculinity of those who don’t “man up”. It’s good to have someone define masculinity in a neutral way apart from the moral preconceptions of the author.
He then discusses the way of the gang in relation to civilization for a few chapters, with a chapter focusing on Rome in particular. As society becomes more civilized and peaceful the need for gangs decreases, so men redirect their gang activities into simulated (ex. playing sports or games), vicarious (ex. watching sports or war movies), or intellectual masculine (ex. economic or political competition). Men will be content in civilization as long he has sufficient redirection for gang activities, but increasingly our society is limiting men’s opportunities for participation in masculine activities.
He illustrates with a comparison of the Way of Women and the Way of Men through a comparison of Bonobo and Chimpanzee society, respectively. If men become too decadent and their opportunities for gang activities too few, civilization will become a “Bonobo Masturbation Society” where meaning and purpose are replaced by “fun”.
These chapters are excellent at explaining why men are in a crisis of meaning in our modern society despite being more prosperous than ever.
The last few chapters summarize the consequences of the previous discussions. Men have to choose whether to have civilization with access to a meaningless world of pleasure and fun, the Bonobo Masturbation Society, or a more meaningful society of the Way of Men. He discusses how reasserting the Way of Men is impossible in a democratic society and requires the collapse of prosperity, security, and globalism.
These chapters are rather bleak, as the only solution given to the modern malaise besetting men is collapse, but I can’t argue that it’s not true.
He then gives some advice on starting your own gang. This last chapter is the only part that may be practically applicable to your life, the rest of the book being a theoretical and philosophical discussion of masculinity.
Overall, this book is an excellent exploration of masculinity, and I think Donovan gets everything exactly right. This is simply the best book on masculinity I have read.
If you are at all interested in men’s issues or masculinity (and you are reading a manosphere blog, so you probably are) or if you’ve ever wondered how to be man, read this book. In itself, it won’t really help you become a better man or improve your life, but it will give you the theory necessary to understand what you are missing, so you can begin to find solutions for yourself.