Eric Metaxas’ book, 7 Men And The Secret Of Their Greatness, is an educational read, and it is designed to be that way. As the title suggests, it is an examination of seven different men, with specific emphasis upon their unique contribution to the world because of their faith in Christ. The seven men highlighted are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles Colson. In addition to chapters on each of these, there is an interesting introduction in which Metaxas argues that the idea of manhood is really in his sights. He writes that he wants the book to not talk about manhood, but instead be one that, “shows it in the actual lives of great men” (Introduction, xiv). The book comes in at 211 pages, including a healthy notes section and topic index.
On a personal note, I am incredibly jealous of the photograph on the book jacket. I included it here, from his Amazon page. I someday aspire to have such a manly, regal, well-put-together author photo. Maybe. Someday.
The most significant strength of this book is the actual history of the individuals. Particularly strong are the chapters on Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Eric Liddell. Even though I’d read about these people before, Metaxas displays the faith these men had, and how it impacted their decisions, better than anything else I’ve seen.
Another strength of the book is its readability. Metaxas has written biographies of both Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer (for a review of that book, click here), but both of those are major efforts. These chapters, however, are crisp, to the point, yet they miss none of the essence. Indeed, it felt to me that the book was written with middle schoolers in mind. That is how easy it is to read.
There are weaknesses, though. I did not like the chapter on George Washington. Metaxas overplays his hand here in what I think was an attempt to appeal to patriotic book buyers. A second weakness was the last chapter. Metaxas, to his credit, freely admits his close connection to Charles Colson, but this connection colors his view. I am not saying the chapter is bad. The weakness is not in the writing or in the power of Colson’s testimony. The weakness is that Colson’s life does not measure up to the other men in this book. A third weakness is that he doesn’t give us valuable insight into what might be these men’s weakness. Jackie Robinson had a temper and Eric Liddell might have had a messiah complex, but Metaxas washes any analysis of these weaknesses out of his hero stories. The truth is, manhood (and womanhood, for what its worth) is really more about overcoming our weaknesses, and facing them straight on. His book would have been better if he’d included more of this.
Those who would enjoy this book the most are people who love history and biographies. I can see where it would be a great book for students, particularly students in a Christian learning environment, or maybe a Christmas present for a boy who loves to read.