Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Amazing Tales Not so Amazingly Told

Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys, Neil Oliver

(William Morrow, 2009), hb., 364 pp.
Ages 7+

Last year I wrote a post on this book just after purchasing the volume. I quoted the back of the book (which is what induced me to buy the book) and wrote, “How can a book that says this not be good!” Sadly, I must now write to say in answer, “They found a way.” In spite of the inspiring writing on the book cover this is not a very good book and I cannot recommend it. I like the concept but the execution was poor.

The biggest problem with the book is its total lack of a moral compass. I had seen criticism of the book along the lines that it simply gloried in men dying in combat. I dismissed the critique at the time expecting that it came from people who failed to consider the value of self-sacrifice in this way. Now, I appreciate the criticism. Without a moral compass nobility and valor are hard to distinguish. Various comments in the book demonstrate carelessness for real values apart from dying bravely. For example homosexuality among Spartan young men is discussed casually without any moral judgment. Profanity is sprinkled liberally throughout. This is not what I want to read to my boys.

Related to this, the book does not sound like it is really written to boys. Quite a bit of information is assumed and even examples used relate more to adult men. It sounds like a conversation between adult men which they imagine will resonate with boys.

Lastly, though many powerful stories were selected, the manner of retelling the stories was typically ineffective. These are great stories which ought to be powerful, but they never soared. They were like great lions that only meowed. So much more was expected so that the disappointment was great.

We do need to retell the great stories which used to be commonplace and which capture the imagination of young boys inspiring them to be men. However, manhood is not sheer recklessness. It is willingness to sacrifice for the good, an arranging of life according to a compelling moral vision which shows when it is right to fight and when it is not.

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At 8:39 PM, Blogger Greta said...

Just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your posts and find all your book reviews very helpful. I was wondering if you happen to have created a compiled list with all the titles (and images would be great, too) of the books you review.

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Greta said...

Sorry, I forgot to mention that the compiled list I was referring to was for all the children's character builder books you review. And if each of the titles on the list could be linked to their respective review, that would be even better! Thank you!!

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Ray Van Neste said...

Thanks Greta.
Someone is helping me to prepare such a list, though, as you might imagine, it is taking some time. As soon as it is ready I will post it. Thank you for your interest.


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