Before I get to the normal pros and cons of a review, let me say this: I think that just about every man, and at least every American man, should read the Style section of this book, or at least
read the "Notes On The Dandy" subsection. It isn't that every man should follow O'Brien's advice on how to dress, on formality, or on being a dandy at all, it's simply that he outlines so perfectly the fallacy that schlubbiness for its own sake is still a mark of distinction (in 99% of contexts, it isn't) and makes putting some thought into one's clothing sound like the best thing in the world, all while giving little mini-essays on why
this or that works or doesn't work, and on the history of each item of clothing. He, of course, ends it all with the most important part, which is that once you know
the rules, you can go ahead and break them. So he's not saying that one should always dress in a suit and tie, just that one should be aware of oneself and the image on projects.
Now that that's out of the way, should every man read How To Be a Man? Well, probably not. I give it four stars because the first two sections are mostly wonderful, because O'Brien is charming and fun to read throughout, and because it's an absolutely beautiful edition. That said, a lot of what's here is taken from columns that he's written, and after awhile it begins to show: he repeats himself, he contradicts himself, and his own blind spots begin to be revealed.
Those blind spots? Even as he rails about class, his own classism (different from classicism) shows at time: such as when he suggests that one never fly economy class, as though this is a choice we all can make. Also, a particularly strange little passage where he defends the idea of an older man marrying a younger woman. (I should point out that May-December romances of any configuration aren't anything I automatically have a problem with, but in over-defensiveness he trots out reasons that make it seem like the only
way to go and gets... well, kinda creepy. And all this just after a part in which he swore up and down that we need to stop worshiping youth.)
But then, this is a book that is, by default, made up of one person's opinions on a bunch of different things, it's only natural that most every reader will find something to disagree with. That said, much of what he writes is so tongue-in-cheek, so funny, so well-thought-out that it's generally a joy to read. Serious or not, and despite some tangents, the overall message of the book is that one should generally treat others with respect, should respect oneself, and try to be a well-rounded human being. Also, there's a lot of snark and wonderful quotes. O'Brien is a pretty damn well-rounded man himself, so it's easy to forgive missteps, considering all the gold that's in here. That said, the first two sections are definitely the best.