Saturday, June 1, 2013

Book: Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

Note: A few years ago, I did a review of Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (find it here). He has not put out a major book since then, though he has been busy essaying and speaking and preparing for his next book. That next book is today’s review book, provided by Booksneeze, Thomas Nelson Publishing’s Book Review Blog Program.

Biographies. The idea of reading them often intimidates me. After all, while there is much to learn in the lives of others, do I really want to wade through the minutiae of an individual life? There is a gap between the usefulness of reading biographies and the challenge of wading through them.

There are a couple of solutions to the dilemma of wanting to read biographies but not wanting long ones. The first is simple in this house: we’ve got kid-level biographies stacked to the ceiling. (Literally, on organize the bookshelves day.) Those, though, often miss the deeper ideas that challenge the mind and heart.

The second solution is a book like Eric Metaxas’ 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness. This is, essentially, a bundle of seven abridged biographies. Metaxas highlights specific character traits from the lives of these seven men:

  • George Washington
  • William Wilberforce
  • Eric Liddell
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Chuck Colson

The focus is more on a specific evidence of that one trait than on exploring the whole life of each individual.

By nature, each chapter has to be short, and so the biographies leave many events out. Further, critical analysis of the whole life of the treated individual. That is the nature of these types of biographical works. You may see it as a shortfall or a benefit—it’s like ordering the sampler at a new restaurant. You get to try a lot and decide what you’ll want more of later.

Even with the necessary brevity, 7 Men does not fall completely into hagiography. Metaxas points out, for example, the contradiction in Washington’s battle for liberty and his continued ownership of slaves. The men detailed were not perfect, and Metaxas does not attempt to portray them as such.

The other criticism I have is mixed. The book is, after all, 7 Men. Therefore, the presence of only men is expected, but I hope to see a volume on 7 women sometime soon. Further, I think that, while including Jackie Robinson keeps the book from being a whitewash, there are continents besides Europe and North America that have produced great men (and women).

In all, since the goal here was to highlight only seven men, Metaxas has hit it well. It is not, certainly, an exhaustive list of great people, but a good intro biography for each of the seven named above. It should whet your appetite to learn more about some of them, and help the reader grow.

Free book from Booksneeze in exchange for the review.

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