James (Manly Manners: Lifestyle & Modern Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century, 2016) offers his second, ethics-focused volume in his etiquette series.
In his first installment of the Manly Manners trilogy, James expressed a belief that there’s an appropriate way to go about every aspect of human interaction. In this second book, he dives deeper to explore the ethical questions that underlie etiquette, providing moral grounding to what would otherwise be empty rituals. “The physical pain caused by a slap to the face begins subsiding in seconds; the emotional pain from that same slap, however, may endure a lifetime,” he notes. From this perspective, the author goes into the proper ways that a gentleman should approach relationships, from breaking up with a romantic partner to maintaining platonic friendships. He also examines the qualities that exist at the heart of a true gentleman, and even delves a bit into his own interpretation of Christianity. James lets the reader in on what he calls the “14 Deadly Sins”—seven of “Control,” including child abuse, domestic violence, and revenge, and seven of “Insecurity,” such as idleness, substance abuse, and intolerance. He also details the “Eight A-Attitudes” that provide a gentleman with the proper outlook on life, such as “Be good, not just fair,” and “Plan for the future, but enjoy the present.” He concludes this relatively short volume with practical and philosophical advice on finding one’s proper profession and on the particulars of marriage. As in the previous volume, James writes in a heightened, mannered language that feels appropriate to his topic. However, it sometimes veers toward self-parody; for example, each chapter opens with an epigraph by the author himself doing his best Oscar Wilde impression (“For a sex-worker, the real orgasm is fiscal, not physical”; “There is less to him than meets the eye…”), which distracts to some extent. James’ advice is generally useful, however, and firmly based in established traditions. Even if doesn’t all feel completely relevant to the current culture, none of tips are so old-fashioned as to be offensive.
An engagingly written, if sometimes self-indulgent, book on appropriate behavior.