A false notion of manliness leads boys astray. All boys wish to be manly, but they often try to become so by copying the vices of men rather than their virtues.
The 19th century had no monopoly on manliness, however. One of the most enriching portraits in "The Book of Man" is that of David Gelernter, the computer scientist, professor, artist and social critic who was badly wounded by the Unabomber. This excerpt from a magazine profile focuses not on Gelernter's scientific achievements (he has many computer breakthroughs to his credit), or his personal courage in overcoming his injuries from the letter bomb (it nearly killed him). Rather, it stresses his role as a husband and father. Gelernter and his wife, in a countercultural act, are raising their sons to be chivalrous gentlemen. A man's role with respect to women, Gelernter argues, "is to protect, to help, to support, and to cherish -- as opposed to consume. We are a consumer society and the number one consumption is that of women.
"Women," he continues, "have an urge to nurture and cherish children; men don't have that, but they can substitute an urge to nurture and cherish women. Men need to turn their sexual interest into something that goes deeper, emotionally and spiritually."
Boys have always needed guidance about what it means to be manly. But ours is an age when men are shirking fatherhood in alarming numbers. One of every 4 American children under the age of 18 now lives without his father, a tripling of the rate since 1960. Men can be lectured and cajoled into meeting their responsibilities, but it's also clarifying to hear from Teddy Roosevelt (a man's man if ever there was one): "It is exceedingly interesting and attractive to be a successful businessman ... or farmer, or a successful lawyer, or doctor, or a writer, or a president, or a ranchman ... or to kill grizzly bears and lions. But for unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison."