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Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness

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  • Posted April 23, 2014

    OK, But. . .

    This is an interesting book, long on aspiration, short on driving home its thesis about the meaning of manhood. Except for that emphasis, it reminds me of Alistair Cooke's 1977 book, 'Six Men' (which featured Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin, Edward VIII, H.L. Mencken, Bertrand Russell, and Adlai Stevenson). Mr. Cooke was a man of the Left, and his choices, except for Mencken, leaned that way. I suspect the 'Sage of Baltimore was there because, for sheer writing punch and panache, he is the champ.

    Unlike Metaxas, Cooke did not admire each of his six subjects. For Edward VIII, he gave a searing send-off: "The most damning thing you can say about Edward--as a prince, as a king, as a man--is one that all comfortable people should cower from deserving: he was at his best only when the going was good."

    Cooke describes the six thusly: ". . .they all seem to me to be deeply conservative men who, for various psychological reasons, yearned to be recognized as hellions or brave progressives. Perhaps that is their real link to this writer." Indeed. I hear Mencken roaring from the grave, convulsed in laughter at being labeled a 'brave progressive.'

    Metaxas comes from a different perspective. '7 Men' comprises minibiographies of George Washington, William Wilburforce (the 18th-19th century English abolitionist, about whom Mr. Metaxas wrote a well-received biography), Eric Liddell (one of the runners featured in the 1981 Oscar-winning film, 'Chariots of Fire'), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German theologian and spy executed in 1945 for his part in the plot to kill Hitler - Mr. Metaxas also wrote his biography, which received glowing reviews), Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles Colson, the Nixon hatchet-man-turned-Christian supplicant to imprisoned criminals.

    Instead of preaching about what it means to be a man, Metaxas lets the meaning emanate from the stories he tells. Those familiar with his philosophy won't be surprised to hear that all were serious Christians.

    The book is an interesting collection, unevenly written. One wonders if its author wanted some scale economies from his earlier efforts with the inclusion of Bonhoeffer and Wilburforce. Colson is an offbeat choice, included perhaps to show that redemption is real. With Dodger owner Branch Rickey's unshakable support, Jackie Robinson survived the slings and slurs of racism in major league baseball to become one of its premier players in the mid-twentieth century; I heard him speak during the 1968 political campaign (he was for Nixon), and he remained livid about his treatment two decades earlier. Of course, Washington was the most remarkable of men. But I found the portrait of Liddell most compelling, especially in the way he chose to die at such an early age (he was barely 43).

    My loud complaint about this book is the inclusion of Pope John Paul II. As I write this, we are but four days from his hurry-up canonization. I stipulate that he was one of the three singular forces who took down the Soviet Union--Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher were the two titans in that triumvirate.

    But stories have emerged about JPII's role in covering up the widespread pedophilia by Catholic priests. In particular, I wish that Metaxas had explored JPII's cover-up of the allegations by nine priests against Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. I believe that Pope Francis, whom I greatly admire, will rue the day that he allowed John Paul II to be sainted in a veritable

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2013

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