An amusing but troubling study of manhood, offering scant hope for improvement.




A paleoanthropologist offers a wry, dispiriting perspective on modern man.

McAllister (Anthropology. Univ. of Western Australia; Dracula Tooth, 2008, etc.) explains how his research opened up to him the nightmare of contemporary male inferiority: “I discovered, to my horror,” he writes, that “there’s nothing we can’t do that ancient men, and sometimes women, haven’t already done better, faster, stronger, and usually smarter.” He begins by opining that the man of 2010 is “the worst man in history,” in that historical narratives consistently suggest greater accomplishments by men of the ancient world, the Greco-Roman era and pre-agricultural societies. This is true in many categories, which he uses to organize the book: “Brawn,” “Battle,” “Beauty,” “Babes,” etc. In each chapter, McAllister bends his argument to the topic with an array of historical comparisons, which are certainly entertaining but occasionally arbitrary. In boxing and warfare, many earlier groups committed acts of bravery and ferocity that show up today’s ultimate fighters and even the training of America’s Special Forces. As for “Bravado,” Native American tribes such as the Sioux practiced brutal rituals that suggest great resistance to pain, and routinely tortured captives from rival tribes who bore such ordeals with contemptuous stoicism. The complex rituals of competitive beauty practiced by the African Wodaabe tribe puts to shame metrosexuals like David Beckham. Regarding erotic conquest, even Wilt Chamberlain withers next to the recorded behavior of ancient Indian kings. For McAllister, such disparate anecdotes lead to grim conclusions: “our sloth betrays not just our own genetic potential, but that of our sons too... we are sentencing them to a lifetime of brittle bones, weak tendons, and softened bodies and brains.” The author’s application of anthropological research is rigorous and the writing is sharp and often funny, but the overall approach proves repetitive.

An amusing but troubling study of manhood, offering scant hope for improvement.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-55543-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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