Guide to a male man


For all the many books written in the past 40 years about what it means to be a woman, there have been comparatively few about the nature of masculinity. Some might even feel that a studied contemplation of what it means to be a man is itself unmanly.

However, Tim Samuels, award-winning documentary maker and Men's Hour presenter on BBC Five Live, has no such hang-ups. He might look brooding and bearded on the inside cover of Who Stole My Spear? (Century, £12.99) - his investigation into the state of 21st-century maleness - but his writing is sensitive, funny and at times provocative.

This is, he feels, perhaps the most confusing time ever to be a man. We are walking around in bodies more or less identical to those of our hunter-gatherer forebears yet, instead of roaming the plains with eponymous spear in hand, we chaps are increasingly wielding nothing more lethal than a mouse in a hermetically sealed, air-conditioned office. And while traditional male virtues, such as strength, authority and daring, are still considered sexy - at least on dating sites - men are increasingly called upon to be right-brained, nappy-changing dads in touch with their emotions.

We are told to suppress the aggression and daring that stood us in good stead when confronting woolly mammoths but which are considered less useful in the world of chartered accountancy or website design. Some have adapted better than others. Around 95 per cent of CEOs of major companies are men, but so are 95 per cent of the prison population. And the leading cause of death in males under 45 is not illness or accident but suicide. Clearly a lot of men are not coping well with modern life.

Samuels investigates various aspects of the male dilemma, from the profusion of dating apps giving single men a dizzying choice of potential partners, to the explosion of porn, the challenges of marriage and parenthood in the 21st century, and the lack of opportunities for boys and men to express their innate maleness.

Samuels draws entertainingly and poignantly on episodes from his own life including the loss of his mother, and his barmitzvah, which featured him singing a portion of "incomprehensible Hebrew off by heart followed by a buffet of smoked fish-based products".

Then came the joys of physical labour on kibbutz and the moment he came face to face with his caveman self by almost starting a fight on Friday night at shul, presumably leaving synagogue members choking on their chopped herring.

This is an intelligent and readable piece of writing. It may not have all the answers for troubled males struggling to adapt to these confusing times but it certainly asks all the right questions.

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