In my many years as a journalist, scholar and thinker, I have read nearly all the great works of literature, including Milton, Shakespeare and the first third of The Brothers Karamazov. But no book has ever spoken to me as profoundly or directly as Joel Stein's Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity.
Haven't we all, on some level, been a Jewish boy in 1970s New Jersey with only female friends, an Easy-Bake oven and a strong predilection for show tunes? Haven't we all had a panic attack when learning we're going to have a son, since that means we're going to have to figure out how to throw footballs, watch other people throw footballs and decide whether to be happy or sad about the results of said football throwing? Haven't we all then tried to rectify our lack of masculinity by becoming a Boy Scout, fighting fires with firefighters, driving a Lamborghini Superleggera, doing three days of Army boot camp, firing a tank and going one round with UFC champion Randy Couture? I know I have.
Although Man Made won't be published until May 15, I have already reread it more than 30 times, and to the shock of my lovely wife Cassandra, who overheard me, I still laughed at all the jokes on the 30th read. The quality of the writing is so consistently great that to find my favorite section, all I need to do is turn to a random page and read it. Like this one: Isn't the entire point of being seen in a Lamborghini to get two women for a threesome? But--and here is the car's one major design flaw--there are only two seats. So I'd have to meet two women at a club, take one home, drive back to the club, and take the second one home. By then, the effect of the Lamborghini would have worn off on the first one, so I'd have to take her for a quick drive somewhere, thus de-Lamborghini-sexing the second one. The math just doesn't work out.
The only parts I didn't fully enjoy were those in which the author suffered horribly. Like when after just three hours of boot camp--which admittedly was in Kentucky in the summer and he'd slept only three hours and wasn't told not to lock his knees--he fainted daintily into the arms of a soldier. Or when UFC president Dana White insisted that Stein get choked out so he'd know what it feels like, and Stein faked nodding off, which caused White to get his psycho jujitsu-training friend to choke him out yet again, causing Stein to not be able to swallow his own spit that night. I really felt for him there.
It is clear from the book that Stein deeply loves his son, his wife, his combative father, his self-reliant father-in-law, his editor, his agent and every one of the people he meets in the course of his quest. Even that jujitsu guy who choked him out. I'm sure all those people will enjoy all the jokes that celebrate and do not mock them and will thank Stein for writing about them. Possibly with gifts of 2009 grand cru Bordeaux.
I admit I feared this book would be just a longer version of Stein's column in Time, which wouldn't be a bad thing given the awesomeness of that artistic endeavor. But it is much more. It's got occasional cursing. And bigger type. I also admit I was wary of reading yet another book that traffics in the differences between men and women. But Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus is to Man Made what Fifty Shades of Grey is to having sex with Venus. Just to make that completely clear: Time magazine says reading Man Made is better than having sex with the Roman goddess Venus. Also, to be clear, TIME magazine is fine with that sentence appearing in any promotional materials for the book.
Are there books with deeper insights, better reporting, more important ideas and a better theme song? No, there are not. In Man Made, Stein does that amazing thing great writers do when they take all these ideas that were already in your head, put them on paper and then charge you $27 for that paper. Or put them on e-readers and charge you $13 to download. Either way, it counts equally toward the author's sales figures.
The film rights to Man Made have already been sold to Fox, and I hope it gets turned into a movie with George Clooney playing the Stein role, since they remind me so much of each other.
Though this is only Stein's first book, I would already put him on par with David Sedaris, Dave Barry, James Thurber, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln. I have recommended Man Made not just to all my friends and family but also to strangers on Twitter, over and over and over again. My one fear is that after this great achievement, Stein will succumb to the soul-depleting self-promotion of book marketing and lose his ability to be a ruthless critic of our shallow times. Which is why, in case this is his only great book, I suggest buying one for yourself and one for your dad for Father's Day.