Debatably, our burgeoning little counter-culture can be said to have a canon of literature…there’s certainly a lot of material, and, like most genres of books, 90% of it is absolute garbage. However, the free-wheeling, Wild West-style self-publishing ethos of the ‘sphere makes Sturgeon’s Law even worse. Say what you will about 1930s pulp fiction, at least E. E. Smith and John Campbell never hawked a 20 dollar, 50 page e-book full of information gleaned from a Google Search (I’m probably the only person who finds the concept of ENIAC being used to do a Google Search humorous).
If our burgeoning little counter-culture can be said to have a canon of literature that’s objectively respectable…the number shrinks, but there are still many examples. One that is almost unanimously recommended by neo-masculine bloggers is The Way of Men by Jack Donovan, who can undoubtedly be considered one of the progenitors of this movement.
If you want a short review: I am absolutely recommending this book, it’s less than 200 pages and written in plain, no-frills language that is simple to understand while still speaking intelligently. If you want more information on the book, let me begin by saying it is unlike most other manosphere books:
Jack’s book only obliquely deals with one of the biggest topics of this corner of the internet: that of seduction and making oneself more attractive to the opposite sex (this is in contrast to his other books which don’t really touch upon the subject at all). There are a couple of very good reasons for this, one of which being that Mr. Donovan explicitly states that this is not his goal in the opening statement of the book: rather than being an ego-stroking book about his own masculinity, or how to improve yours, this book asks “if men are a certain way, and there is a way to be manly, then what IS ‘The Way of Men’? (Chapter 1)” Or, more succinctly, “what is masculinity?” This question, along with “is there a future for masculinity and men?” drives the book.
As I have discussed, I studied physical anthropology, and I feel that anybody versed in this field (or biology, or behavioral/evolutionary psychology, or attending high school gym class ) has stumbled vaguely in the direction of the answer to that question. But, to put it simply, this book is probably the first work to definitively express an answer to that question. I am not the first person to say this, but I feel it bears repeating: this book should be (and I wager in the next 20 years will be) for men what Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was for women. Except that unlike the work of feminists, The Way Of Men doesn’t have a fraudulent thesis, and Jack Donovan doesn’t have ties to the government…as far as I know.
The first half of the book is very anthropological: the first chapter lays the foundation for the discussion to follow: it is argued that the way of men, the way all men interact with each other and gain respect in each other’s eyes (the basis of the concept of honor), is based upon how we interacted with each other at the dawn of history, when “culture” consisted entirely of small groups of embattled men (referred to as “gangs” or “honor groups”) fighting to survive and protect their lands, women, and children. Men are on average stronger than women (and women will inevitably be burdened with childcare, especially in primitive conditions), so the burden of violence (namely hunting and fighting) falls, and has always fallen, on them. That physiological difference is where the concept of The Way Of Men begins. And the virtues that make you good at hunting and fighting as a member of a team of men (ie: the most efficient way to hunt and fight) are still, unconsciously, the things that men judge each other upon.
Chapter 2 briefly goes into the difference between being “a good man” (displaying the virtues your society values) and “being good at being a man” (showing the amoral masculine virtues that all cultures, and all men, both good and evil, value), and, more importantly, discusses those latter virtues: these are strength, courage, mastery, and honor. If you take ANYTHING from this book, those four virtues should be it: for those virtues ARE masculinity.
Not only do these virtues represent what women find attractive in a man, they also represent what men admire and respect in other men, and the text implies that these two phenomena are interconnected.
The rest of the first half goes into more detailed explanations of these virtues, how they are rooted in physiology and psychology (“Any attempt to understand masculinity/manliness as a characteristic pertaining to men, must include strength as a foundation”. Chapter 3) and how, even in our modern feminized world, where up is down and right is left, these virtues are still desirable: “The manly virtues are so appealing, even the weak, cowardly, inept, and dishonorable twist words around so they can feel they have the virtues“ (Chapter 2). Fittingly for how important they are, these four concepts permeate the entirety of the book.
The second half of the book deals with modern society and how masculinity clashes with it (namely, we see a return of the “good man”/”good at being a man” dichotomy). He seems to think, and to a large extent I would agree, that masculinity is always at odds with polite society, and efforts must be made to placate these dark urges all men have…except for the fact that our society has become so wealthy, and so complacent, that most of us don’t even have access to simulated masculinity (ie: contact sports, meaningful labor in our day, etc.), and thus masculinity now means whatever anybody wants it to mean, hence the cry of the effeminate male that he is “more evolved” or what have you (ie: that he is more “morally upright” by eschewing his primal masculinity, “a better man” than others because he has no concern about being “better at being a man”)
Despite the fact that everybody defines masculinity as they see fit, Jack correctly points out that, in a way, their posturing shows the primacy of the masculine virtues: ” even those who want to ‘reimagine masculinity’ still go back to the virtues, but corrupt them in their image, speaking of strength and courage and honor without doing them.” (Chapter 7)
Arguably the most impactful chapter is the chapter entitled “The Bonobo Masturbation Society” (Chapter 11), comparing the matrilineal, over-sexualized bonobos to the patriarchal, status-obsessed chimps, and essentially saying that the Western world today resembles the former a lot more than the latter.
\”What the modern world gives us is a thousand and one ways to safely spank our monkey brains into oblivion. Is it any wonder that some men, ironically, ask themselves the exact same thing that Betty Friedan wrote educated women were asking themselves: ‘Is this it?'” (Chapter 11). Despite how much fun you have (and he points out there’s nothing wrong with fun), men living in a safe, child-proof society will always have a feeling of being spiritually unfulfilled, a sense of “…knowing our ancestors were stronger, hardier, braver, knowing that our potential for manly virtue, glory, and honor will be wasted” (Chapter 11).
Ultimately, he seems to come to the conclusion that the ideal state of civilized man is to find a balance between the world of civilized comforts and the world of manly brutality and honor groups-with an emphasis on giving both facets of life representation (Jack is smart enough to realize that daydreams of living in The Road Warrior would, in reality, be utterly miserable). The book ends with foreshadowing that the bonds of society have already begun to break down (ie: people are beginning to become interdependent on each other-an honor group-rather than the government, which is increasingly seen as “the other”), and we may need to rediscover The Way of Men, and the very last pages are suggestions on how to form a gang of men.
All in all, Jack’s theorizing is pretty sound (I feel that the brief overview of the chapters I gave should still convey the legitimacy of his ideas), but the book is not perfect:
The repeated referral to “honor gangs” and men judging each other are an aspect that might raise a few eyebrows (whether or not this behavior should be considered eyebrow-raising is an issue for another time): On his website, Donovan does not hide the fact that he is a homosexual-in fact, his first book Androphilia was explicitly about gay men reclaiming masculinity (in other words, defining themselves as men first, and gay second), and this revelation has earned Jack more than a few criticisms from the more…shall we say, traditional, members of the alt-Right.
Speaking as a heterosexual who makes no bones about his one major vice being women of the skanky persuasion, I found the book to be, if anything, almost devoid of sexuality at all (“The Bonobo Masturbation Society” is the only chapter that discusses the matter in-depth, and there is an underlying implication of “the masculine virtues make you more attractive to women” throughout the book)
The masculine virtues that are explicitly described as amoral can also be taken to be asexual, and thus both heteros and homos can achieve them. With that being said, men do judge each other based on their sexual prowess, and while he does discuss “flamboyant dishonor” as the most likely reason for why men have historically disliked homosexuals, I would have liked to see some more discussion of heterosexuality and how it affects concepts of masculinity (I suppose those would fall under the purview of mastery and honor…)
Beyond that, I have minor quibbles about some of his anthropology, such as in chapter 1 when he says “historically the most desirable women are those that have, in turn, been attracted to the most respected men”, a statement I found to be somewhat pointless-everybody is going to be attracted to the high status people, it’s just that the elites are likely the only ones who will have the opportunity to mate with them. In other words, you might as well have said: “historically, the most attractive women are those that are attracted to the most attractive men”, a completely obvious statement.
And finally, as I read the book, I found that I was often capable of “filling in” the information before I read it-I voraciously read Jack Donovan’s website and listened to his podcasts before purchasing the book, and the themes discussed in The Way of Men are ubiquitous on the website-a problem that, I suppose, is my fault rather than his.
These three complaints I have are very minor, and are honestly me going over the book with a fine-toothed comb (mainly because I’d just feel unfulfilled if I didn’t find something to complain about). I’d recommend buying this book now, before it ends up being either A) Banned, or B) A textbook for some anthropology curriculum (and thus much more expensive).
…And as luck would have it, you can buy a copy of The Way of Men right here