Book Review: Man Of Steel And Velvet

Man Of Steel And Velvet: A Guide To Masculine Development, by Aubrey Andelin

It is hard to do a book like this justice. If one seeks to be generous and judge it for its good intentions, for dealing with a serious issue, and for being a relic of its time [1], one can be accused of condemning it with faint praise, given that many people almost swear by this book (for reasons that are fairly easy to understand), but others are highly critical of this book, for good reason as well. There are reasons to praise this book and reflect upon it, and plenty to find fault in as well. Finding the balance between the good and bad, sifting the wheat from the chaff, is one of the responsibilities of a thoughtful reader. It was hard to read this book and not feel insulted at some parts of it, and easy to be encouraged by other parts of it, while a bit unsure exactly what intentions the author had in mind.

Part of the larger issue with a book like this is balance. This issue of balance manifests itself in several ways. One is the fact that while the title of the book places steel and velvet as coequal qualities importance to the development of a mature manhood, the book spends about three times as much space on steel as it does on velvet. Perhaps this is because the author views the lack of strength of character in ‘contemporary’ American men (he is really hard on American men, and rather stereotypical in his ethnography as a whole) as a vastly bigger problem than the lack of understanding and refinement among men. There is also a difficulty in balance of tone between his pointed criticism of men (the likely audience for this book) as well as his obvious desire to encourage and goad men into, well, manning up and taking responsibility for the well-being of their families. Like many books about manhood, this book assumes that its audience is composed of married men (especially fathers), and the book struggles as well between its desires to present a model of godly masculinity while confusing what is godly and what is merely traditional, even to the point of misquoting scripture on occasion.

That said, this book has a lot to offer, even despite its antiquated and sometimes offensive approach. A lot of what the book has to say is accurate–this book is demanding and complete in its model of complete manhood, presenting a wide variety of qualities that need to be mastered for someone to be a mature and complete man. The book tries to straddle the balance between pointing out that manhood is not about superficial appearance but about internal strength of character and pointing out the need to project confidence (which appears a bit dishonest) that one does not truly feel, while pointing out that possessing this sort of ersatz confidence is a result of faith. The book’s commentary about the need to show attentiveness and tenderness to women, to show appreciation, to have a youthfulness and love of adventure, to be understanding and compassionate to others is spot on, and the book ends far better than it begins. I am glad that I gave the book a chance, despite my own misgivings over its contents. In order to gain the most accurate appreciation for this book, it is best to be somewhat generous, and to seek what one can apply, or what moving poetry one can appropriate from this work. It is worth a sympathetic read, even after all these years, and despite its flaws, and that is good enough.

[1] See:

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11 Responses to Book Review: Man Of Steel And Velvet

  1. Chris says:

    My father in law is making me read this book and I have to be honest, it is hard to get through. The viewpoints of the author are so dated and it’s obvious from the first page. I could have sworn it was written in the 1950’s, but then I checked the copyright. 1972! I was amazed that even though 72 was 42 years ago, he still had the ideals and views of somebody from 20 years before that! And some of the situations just makes me question how truthful this author really is.

    For example, I’m still in the Steel part. It always seems that he always knows some family that is a prime example of what is wrong with men and of course, his points are supported and he’s able to sit up on his self made pedestal and point down at others’ faults. His views on women, even in 1972, is deplorable. I’m amazed he’s married. And speaking of that marriage… he says women have no place in the business world for that is ‘the man’s world’. Yet his wife is an author who has sold more books than him and is more popular and, if reviews are to be taken seriously, a better writer. Why does he ‘allow’ her to do this? Writing a book, publishing it, the traveling that comes with being an author when a book is released… these are all aspects of the business world and by this author’s words, she has no right to be in it unless absolutely necessary. He comes off like a hypocrite.

    There’s more I could add on because so many of his views are downright laughable. He’s blatantly chauvinistic, but tries to cover it up in obvious attempts to save face by ‘complimenting’ women. Here’s a great line from this book:

    ‘Women may be limited in knowledge, but they are inclined to have valuable insight.’

    This is as backhanded as you can get with your compliments. Basically, he’s calling women dumber than men (which is pathetic), but he’s also saying they have a tendency to have valuable insight. A tendency. Something that happens occasionally.

    Other great viewpoints:

    Homosexuality is because of a lack of a strong father figure in the home. Idiotic belief. The fact that he said it was ‘recently discovered’ to say along with that… I’d love to see that study.

    Women may have an allotment every month (i.e. allowance). Yes, because that’s how a grown human being wants to be treated.

    Men should not allow women to work. And the kicker is women love such a firm refusal! ‘There is nothing a domestic, feminine woman delights in more than not being allowed to work. It is something she will likely boast about to her friends.’ What friends? The way this author depicts women in this book and what they should be doing, it sounds like they should rarely be leaving the house.

    There are some good tips in this book, I won’t deny that. But it’s hard to take even those seriously because I know where they’re rooted from with this author. I don’t know if this is a religious site or not. I was brought here by clicking a link after searching for a review of this book. I’m amazed at all the praise it has. But I’ll be honest. I am not a religious person. If this site is rooted in that, I can recognize that. You have your beliefs, I have mine. But this author… if that’s how religious people viewed everything 42 years ago, that just makes me sad. Terrible viewpoints on very real people.

    I apologize if this offends anybody here. Like I said, I’m being made to read this book and I really needed to vent frustrations out.

    • I found the Velvet part much better than the Steel part, but yes, by and large I shared your frustrations with the book. Nonetheless, it ought to be worth nothing that this book is still popular among many men in the circles I hang out with, so that ought to tell you something.

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  7. Paul Kurtz says:

    I loved the book. My 12 year old son is reading it now. In my opinion it sets the tone and helps young men understand their natural role as the leader of the family, which is the root of society. We are over two generations into the cultural teaching that men (spefically white men) and fathers are clownish children who need direction from women, and without it would not be able to function properly. Our society has suffered greatly as a result of this. Until young boys are taught and encouraged to be the strong leaders, confident and morally upright, our society will continue its slide. Our country is full of middle aged, adolescent men who have never grown up, and in a real time of crisis, would be utterly useless. Women want strong men. I’ll state it again….Women want strong men. Two thirds of the book is spent on “Steel”… is not by coincidence. Women instinctively want a man of steel. Men also need to understand that they are to treat women and children with a kindness and gentleness (velvet). A man cannot truly display compassion and gentleness in the right circumstances unless they are rooted in steel. No matter how many generations of backwards teaching in our culture, the natural condition of a man is to lead. This book is not a complete guide to that end, but it does set the proper tone.

    • I have mixed feelings for the book, for although I certainly agree with your statements and likewise lament the problem of men being under assault in our culture, I don’t think this book itself presents the proper balance. The solution to an imbalance in society is not to be imbalanced in the opposite direction but rather to demonstrate the proper balance as a model for others. That said, I am glad you and your son have found encouragement to be godly and manly men from this book.

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