Read Iron John: A Book about Men by Robert Bly Online


In this timeless and deeply learned classic, poet and translator Robert Bly offers nothing less than a new vision of what it means to be a man. Bly's vision is based on his ongoing work with men, as well as on reflections on his own life. He addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Finding ricIn this timeless and deeply learned classic, poet and translator Robert Bly offers nothing less than a new vision of what it means to be a man. Bly's vision is based on his ongoing work with men, as well as on reflections on his own life. He addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Finding rich meaning in ancient stories and legends, Bly uses the Grimm fairy tale "Iron John"—in which a mentor or "Wild Man" guides a young man through eight stages of male growth—to remind us of ways of knowing long forgotten, images of deep and vigorous masculinity centered in feeling and protective of the young. At once down-to-earth and elevated, combining the grandeur of myth with the practical and often painful lessons of our own histories, Iron John is an astonishing work that will continue to guide and inspire men—and women—for years to come....

Title : Iron John: A Book about Men
Author :
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ISBN : 34822120
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Iron John: A Book about Men Reviews

  • Ruzz
    2018-12-05 08:12

    Having just pushed through the deep lakes of thought Bly makes us dwell in, and having exhausted a lot of energy traveling miles and miles of metaphor I feel short of power to describe this book. I can say that I am, and few would disagree, the least among you to be found in a drum circle, or even drinking starbuck's. Which is not to say that I am better, only more stubborn about these things. And now further admitting my manhood is not at all comfortable with the idea of needing a "men's movement" and winces at the very thought. Now, having admitted both above to for your consideration I wish to say only that this book is not what I thought it would be, and I am deeply grateful for that. It is not a manifesto, or a self help instructional, nor commentary passing as self-aggrandizement. It is not an attack (backhanded or otherwise) at women--though I can understand why some modern thinking mothers may feel it is--in fact I felt too often he wasted repeated qualifying line after qualifying line for the sole sake of comforting his women readers, soon to be attackers. in any case, despite his verbosity he has a genuine richness of mind and spirit and perhaps his real gift is to free men to think in myth again. Perhaps in time the true value of this meandering philosophical work will be revealed as stealing back some wonder and mysticism in an age of reason. humans love metaphors because most things that mean anything are not so tame as to fit into a single word. Witness the blandness of the word love, or hate, or orgasm when compared to the complexity and depth of the actual thing. And the metaphor is often the closest an author can get to the real thing in written form, and in many ways its the closest some of us can come to painful parts of ourselves. Through this perhaps Bly has found a language for self interaction that free's us from the clinician lurking within us. Gone are terms like Self Esteem or Ego or confidence and in come the king, and the warriors who protect them and perhaps we find we still have some fight left in us. Perhaps, freed from science we can use imagination to bridge an otherwise uncrossable divide between where we are and where we need to be. Bly hands us this and I think it is on us resist its complexity, and our desire to consume it. It's on us to allow it to sink in and become part of our vocabulary for visualizing the world, and ourselves.

  • Carrie
    2018-11-28 12:54

    Oh, man. We all know how it's said that we can't judge books by their covers, or at least that we shouldn't...but this book can be judged easily with a quick glance at the back cover. Here is the author. Note the "ethnic" vest over the button-up shirt and velvet ascot. This sums up, metaphorically, my experience of the contents of the book. A little bit hippie, a little bit new-age fetishist, a little bit ladies-man-of-the-1970's...and a little bit straightlaced and conservative underneath it all. So, he's basically promoting the male version of the "bleeding warriors of peace" women who paint murals of pregnant goddesses growing out of trees. I tried really hard to give this book a fair chance. After all, Robert Bly has taken the time to suggest that men are alienated from their masculine natures and that this condition is bad for everybody. I can get behind that. But I just can't tolerate sentences like "Men and women alike once called on men to pierce the dangerous places, carry handfuls of courage to the waterfalls, dust the tails of the wild boars". WTF? "Dusting" the tails of pigs?

  • Jack Donovan
    2018-12-04 05:57

    Iron John is peppered with meaningful insights, but it is also insufferably fruity. Bly frames Iron John as a book primarily for men ready to do this kind of “inner work;” men around the age of 35. If you’re going to really change manhood, you have to reach out to young men, too. A movement for 35 year old men has no future. Group therapy culture can’t replace authentic, organic masculine experience. That’s a problem I still see with the men’s movement, though I think this is changing. A transformative movement that is going to appeal to young men has to have balls. Iron John contains some truth, and Bly is a natural storyteller, so the book is very well written in its own way. Bly acknowledges some of his own weaknesses and that requires a certain courage and honesty. But ultimately, Iron John offers no path to power for men. At best, it outlines a way to make peace with a wounded male soul.(From a longer review which originally appeared at

  • Γιώργος Μπέλκος
    2018-12-13 08:54

    Μετά το πέρας της τρίτης ανάγνωσης οφείλω να ομολογήσω πως είναι ένα από τα πιο δυνατά αναγνώσματα που έχω διαβάσει. Παρατηρώ πως η επιρροή του είναι πολύ μεγάλη σε θέματα που μέχρι χθες δεν είχα προσεγγίσει με αυτή την πολύ βαθιά ματιά. Πρόκειται για μια ανθρωπολογική μελέτη επάνω στην αρχετυπική μορφή του άρρενος. Χρησιμοποιώντας το παραμύθι του Σιδηρόγιαννου ο συγγραφέας κάνει μια αποσυμβολοποίηση και αποκαλύπτει κρυμμένη γνώση που εμφορούνται τα παραμύθια χιλιάδες χρονια. Κάθε άνδρας (και όχι μόνο) οφείλει στον εαυτό του την ανάγνωση αυτού του βιβλίου. Είναι μια αποκάλυψη σίγουρα. Ότι και να πω είναι λίγο.

  • Sohaib
    2018-12-14 09:11

    A big "poem" on masculinity, every man should read this book. I don't think I can emphasize this enough. And I guess conjoining the word "masculine" and the word "poem" here is "pregnant" with meaning; that is, so much can be induced here. I'm not saying that poetry is exclusively feminine. It's just that being masculine but lacking the ability to "shudder," as Robert Bly puts it, isn't the real thing—it's the masculine shadow, ungrounded, holding the sword, and swinging it sideways, aimlessly. True masculinity, in other words, is capable of feeling.The goal of this book is to initiate men from boyhood (or pretence of manhood) into manhood. The journey begins with the mother and father, building the bond, swimming in their pond, breaking away, stealing the keys from under the mother's pillow, meeting the Woman with the Golden Hair, cultivating the garden, winning the battle. And finally, the boy once, a man now, a Golden Man now, proposes to the Golden Woman.In Iron John's story, these events build up quickly. In real life, however, the individuating man would be fifty by the end.Iron John, The Wild Man, is a symbol: not for the macho/alpha male we see in popular culture, but for that man in touch with the earth, grounded in his lower body, in touch with his instinct, with the uncanny impulses of the deep waters of the unconscious—spontaneous, vigorous, and alive. In a word, he has a strong emotional body that can endure Life.All I can say, I love this book! I'm definitely reading it again!

  • Liam
    2018-11-28 13:05

    The promising start:1. 'Modern men' are losing their identity•"...the images of adult manhood given by popular culture are worn out; a man can no longer depend on them". p.1/2372. 'Feminised men' are unhappy•"[the soft male has] a gentle attitude toward life...but many of these men are not happy...women begand to desire softer isn't working out". p.3/2373. 'Feminised men' arose from recent historical changes in parenting•"The Industrial Revolution...pulled fathers away from their sons and, moreover, placed the sons in compulsory schools where the teachers are mostly women". p.19/237If this doesn't interest you, stop here.So, I thought, this book seems to describe how a son's relationship with his parents (mainly father) might gauge his masculinity. Despite the troubling lack of evidence or logic, and the suspicious repetition of the above three points with the dogmatic tone of "we all know that...[gender bias/phenomenon]" leading every chapter, I thought, this book might offer practical advice for Bly's so-called 'soft' males.----My disappointment:Maybe this book does, did or will help some men discover their identity, which is great, but the few glimmers I found in this I already think I understood by more transparent, recent sources (Freud/Jung/fiction to my own observations). I tried to like this book, but by the end, disliked this book for 2 main reasons.SPOILER ALERT (If this book can have one?)1.It offers no clear practical advice"Moreover, I am afraid of how-to-do-it books on the Wild Man". p.233/237This bothered me, as reading 200 pages of, let's face it, very abstract, unrealistic symbolic descriptions of "finding one's masculinity", one is left thinking how exactly this could be done. The only worth I could give this Iron John analogy was if it suggested a method, which if applied, helped one find what the book was suggesting was lost, 'masculinity'. Empiricism: uncredited theory>test> result>credit theory. However, I sometimes feel as if the descriptions served more to change the reader's political views. The president, the use of drugs, and gang warfare were repeatedly sneaked in as the only evidence for something to do with men without fathers. I felt like I was reading a sneaky propaganda piece trying to woo me in with claims to a higher power I alone lacked, no method of attaining it, and out-of-nowhere sociopolitical comparisons embedded as conclusions to a shaky argument.2. I think this is potentially misleading to the majority of presently young menI'd say this is presently outdated for men already in their 18-30s, and to me this seems counter-intuitive for finding one's masculinity. Third wave feminism began after the publishing of this book which I think in Western societies has radically changed the general consensus on, and therefore usefulness, of 'traditional gender roles'. Also, doesn't 'poeticising' masculinity without providing practical guidance to attain it encourage men already trapped in 'female realm' to indulge further into the female realm? As in, describing figures as Kings and Godesses encourages men to idealise others, which is in itself seems to contribute directly to the rejection of the soft male. What use are principles grounded in fairy tales? Their context provides them no prescription to the possibilities, requirements or desires of reality. There are no bounds to it. For example, I could develop a fairy tale where (something like) the Wild Man exists as a non-human animal spirits which can be reached only by the closeness afforded by domestic household pets...everyone knows that cats inhabit the female realm and dogs inhabit the male realm *rolls eyes*...and say that dog owners are far more likely to find the Wild Man, and the basis for just 'how appealing' this sounded, some people might see this as actual advice. That might sound as ridiculous as Russell's teapot, but how many assertions of this book really satisfy a burden of proof? I just feel this book paints a picture of a boy whom becomes a man solely by having "the courage" to rely on others, which I think leaves no room for a more promising interpretation that a boy becomes a man when he becomes unreliant on others. Especially when there seems to be no one way to reach the Wild Man, or one way to 'ride the horses' provided by the Wild Man, it just seems like nothing concrete has been said at all even within the mythopoetic context for how and how not to find the path.---------I would only recommend this to fatherless men particularly interested in acting on understanding the effects of the relationship they have/had/would have with their father. I'm trying to find books more constructive to discussing the current situation for masculinity in Western societies, I welcome recommendations.

  • Bart Breen
    2018-11-25 14:11

    One of the Best Books I have ever Read ....Truly one of the best books I have ever read, and I have read many.Robert Bly is a Poet and the founder of a Man's Movement. In Iron John he brings both elements to bear in a way that will only truly be understood by men.That's right. I said it. This book requires a man to truly understand it. Women are welcome. I suppose a man can read Cosmo and come away with something too. You may find that sexist. You may find that unfair. Tough. That's the way it is written and for whom it is written. There are some differences between Men and Woman that go beyond nature's plumbing. Society has a tendency to "civilize" men to keep them "safe" and "productive." There's good reason to do this. What is sad is when men are effectively emasculated and no longer able to commune and rejoice in that "Wild Man" Archetype from whence we came. The hunter, protector and leader. "Iron John" to be precise.Now don't get me wrong. This is not a book to walk away from and remake yourself in the image of an unkempt slob who scratches himself in public. This is not a shallow, "Be a MAN!" kinda read.I found myself profoundly affected in reading this as a man in his mid 30's (the age I was at the time.) I did not have a particularly close relationship with my father. In fact there were very few men to whom I could be said to have had a close friendship let a lone a mentoring relationship.Along comes this book and it presents through beautiful and accessible imagery a book that is about me. I found myself relating and understanding things that I long suspected, but didn't know. Robert Bly as it were put his arm around me and showed me through his imagery and modelling, what was missing in me. My identity and celebration of myself as a man. No woman can give that to me, though I love and respect women. My father didn't give it. I am the target of this book. A man who is drifting unable to connect with something essential.It's not surprising to me that the evaluations of this book are all over the map. If you aren't a male and if you aren't attuned to and needing the message of this book, it probably feels like you are reading someone else's "male" (pun intended)This book is especially great for men in their so-called "mid-life" crisis trying to come to terms with who they really are. Any man wanting to "find himself" can benefit from the work if they are able to assimilate and personalize what is presented here.Iron John has no particularly strong religious overtones. If you want a similar book with Christian context try John Eldridge's "Wild at Heart."I recommend Iron John strongly. I've experienced the message it brings and it is sorely needed in our society by men who have lost touch and connection with what it means to be a man.

  • Amelia
    2018-11-17 09:58

    My boyfriend gave this to me and said "Please read this, I think it will help you understand me." So, with grim determination, and a not all too pleasant mindset, I began to read Iron John. Robert Bly is a respected poet and a "leader of men" or, a man who thinks he knows how to make men better men by teaching them to find the wild man inside of them and showing them when and how to make use of his characteristics. I'm not really a fan of the book. I couldn't finish it. This could be because I'm a woman. At first, I found it interesting, but as soon as he started talking about how woman have good intentions when trying to help men grow into themselves or assist in their daily problems we are doing more harm than good. While I agree that this might be true, he just says it too many times for me to be able to stand reading the book without feeling like a useless piece of crap. It disheartened me so much that I could not finish reading it. And Robert states that he means no ill will towards women, and he thinks we are wonderful creatures and have a large purpose in the lives of men, but we just can't do anything to help them and should probably stop trying. I handed it, unfinished, back to my boyfriend, apologized for not wanting to finish it and stated that I did understand him a little better, but I wasn't willing to buy into everything Bly is selling. He believes too firmly in ONE thing for me to be able to agree with him. There is no wiggle room in his theories for other things. If you are a man, chances are you will find a lot in this book helpful and informative, but if you're a woman, this book isn't for you, unless you are intellectually curious about what Bly has to say about the plight of the modern man.

  • Matt
    2018-11-29 06:52

    A book about perspectives on the "wildness" of men throughout history, with emphasis on the need for a return to the rites of passage laid out metaphorically in the "Iron John" tale as told by the Brothers Grimm, which likely dates back to ancient times. Sounds interesting, right? Except that it turns into a disconnected ramble that assumes anything "ancient" is automatically better than anything contemporary. This is a logical fallacy that makes me more angry every time I come across it. The reason humanity sought development was because the ancient world was a swirl of misery. Just because our attempt to perfect ourselves was a failed project, that doesn't mean the starting point was "better." In the typical style of adherents to this position, Bly points to the virtues of ancient religious & mythological sources (Shivaism, cult of Dionysis, etc.) without ever judging the actual outcomes for those who chose to participate in these systems. I mean, they're very old, so they must have been better, right?After a few good introductory chapters the Freudian and Jungian nonsense begins, often signified by phrases like "clearly this means" in reference to the most nebulous concepts. If someone dreams of swimming: "clearly this means his greatest wish is to return to the watery roots of the earliest organisms." Barf. Because of the incessant pseudo-mysticism, I was reminded of the time I tried to read Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces." At least the Star Wars movies came out of that...

  • Corey
    2018-12-13 09:15

    Nuggets of wisdom scattered amid the psychobabble.

  • Ben De Bono
    2018-12-06 06:04

    Iron John is commonly regarded as one of the major men's books written over the past few decades. In many ways it functions as a secular Wild at Heart. It's an easy read that covers a lot of deep issues relating to masculinity. There's a lot to like about this book, as well as a few problems. I'll start with the good stuff. First, I love the mythological approach Bly takes to masculinity. He's considered one of the foremost figures in the Mythopoetic Men's Movement, and for good reason. He not only understands the value of mythology, he's able to draw you into the myth and teach from it. Second, the book represented some unique takes on masculine initiation. Much of the discussion of initiation was familiar to other sources, and necessarily so. The only idea of initiation is walking a tried and true path, not reinventing the wheel. However, that doesn't mean there's no room for fresh perspective. I found Bly's suggestion that it may be beneficial and necessary for the lover archetype to come into a boy's life before the warrior to be fascinating. I'm not sure to what extent I agree, but I love the idea. Third, Iron John represents a balanced and holistic view of masculinity. There's no part of the book where it feels like Bly is short shifting one issue and overemphasizing another. As a result, this is a great introduction to masculine issues. Now for a couple of drawbacks.First, Bly can be a bit long winded at times. He's a terrific writer, and I certainly don't want a book that's so condensed and digestible that it loses the beauty of the language. Honestly, I can't stand books like that (I'm looking at you John Maxwell). However, there were times where it felt like a little more trimming would have been appropriate. Second, I come at men's issues from a mostly evangelical perspective, which Bly does not share. As a result there are places where Bly and I part ways rather decisively. This isn't a criticism in the sense that I expect Bly to share my views, but I also can't pretend as a reader to not be reading from my Christian worldview. As a result, I see Bly's work, while being very good and worthwhile, as ultimately falling short in several areas. The good far outweighs the bad in this one. This is a must read for any man seeking to understand himself or any woman interested in learning more about the men in her life

  • Seregon BookWorm
    2018-11-26 05:48

    What misogynistic drivel. "Real men" are dying off. Shut the fuck up. Hey boys (and yes I mean boys) and little girls who can't do things for yourself: Go live in a cave and draw on walls while your "aggressive and dangerous" man drags you by your hair and throws you on the bed because he doesn't respect you as a human being. After he's done banging on his chest you can watch him try to figure out how fire works. I'll stay in the 21st century with ACTUAL REAL men who aren't threatened by a changing world of female empowerment. And for those of you who think that that somehow equals man hate, I feel sorry for you.

  • Kevin Fuller
    2018-11-26 07:10

    Bly is sly. He talks about men without isolating women, without excluding the Divine Feminine from the male experience.In a day and age where the alpha male has been replaced by the only rational option, the beta male, Bly offers a third way, the nurturing Father.I really like the way Bly brings in fairy tale, mysticism, some gnosticism, and paganism, and um, even mythicism and also um the kitchen sink to describe the male ego in all of it's complexity.The most telling, for me, is the chapter on the lost King, concerning modern men's relationships to their workaholic distant Fathers, and embracing of their Mothers. The mothers encouraged men to eschew manual labor (vulgar!) for more 'spiritual' work involving intellectualism. And obviously, with the Enlightenment and the dispatch of Kings, the male ego has no really earthly Father to gaze upon as a Spiritual Guide.Bly rightly points out that in aboriginal tribes such as Indian and Australian, male initiation still takes place for boys where today in postmodern Western society, the lack of men intervening in boys' lives makes the process much more drawn out, much more protracted and even postponed. What happens in some aboriginal boys' lives at age thirteen only happens to young 'men' aged forty in Western society.Initiation, for me personally, occurred anonymously and in my late thirties, and lasted much too long. I only now am just coming to grips with the fact it happened and the resultant implications.It is uncanny the path and waypoints the initiation takes as described in Bly's book and how it was meted out in my own experience, pointing to what must be a universal phenomenon that encompasses many cultures.I recommend this book for any man who has ever failed miserably at being a 'man'.The rest already have this stuff down pat, I'm sure.

  • Aric
    2018-11-27 13:48

    A cross between Jungian psychology, Poetry, and Fairy Tales, this book neatly intersects many of my primary interests. Written by the poet Robert Bly, it's an odd journey through the archetypal psychic development of men in western culture, focusing on the uses of and need for initiation rites and spiritual life, and a Jungian interpretation of the fairy tale "Iron John". There are some remarkable insights here, though also some pretty specious claims.

  • Donn
    2018-12-14 08:17

    This book is why I love Robert Bly. The modern man is lost, disheveled, and more broken everyday because there is no guidance to lead him into maturity, and through self-discovery. Utilizing the myth of Iron John, Robert Bly offers some answer to the wounds we receive in life, and how those too are means for us to grow well.

  • Dylan Grant
    2018-12-13 11:10

    This book is absolutely loaded with psychological insight. Reading this book felt almost surreal at times because of how it brought together so many different things that I have read into a cohesive whole. Robert Bly discusses the importance of male initiation rituals on a male's psychological in theself-development in ancient societies. I had first become aware of the existence of these male initiation rituals through reading Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology. When I first read that book I was thinking that modern men need a similar kind of system in order to harness the masculine power within in a constructive way. Men and male development are more complicated issues than contemporary society is willing to recognize. There is, as Robert Bly says and which I have noticed long before I even read this book, a subtle crisis in the modern world in regards to male mental health. Men are much more likely than women to commit suicide, and this is especially true in western countries. Obviously something must be done, and Robert Bly points the way. I will write a more in-depth review when I have the time.

  • Laurie
    2018-11-15 07:06

    I really don't like to give a book only three stars, especially when it's obvious the author worked so hard researching and writing. But, this book really only deserves three stars, in my opinion.Robert Bly really did his homework when he researced the myth of Iron John. He has an historical illustration for almost every word of the story. It's very impressive.But, for some reason I can't explain, Bly's writing is difficult for me to understand. I read most of his paragraphs over and over again before giving up and moving on, hoping I got the gist of what he's trying to communicate. That's one reason I gave it three stars.The other reason is I think some of his explanations and illustrations for situations in the story are really far-fetched. I think he does alot of stretching, and I'm not swallowing it. Really, do all of our actions have mystical implications?My favorite part of the book is when Bly encourages the reader to decide what he wants, and then pay for it. I repeat that sentiment to anyone who will listen.I also appreciate Bly's attempt to sypathize with and support the history and pertpetuation of human masculinity. I'm saddened to think of all we've lost as a species in that regard.So, I think it's a good book, and I recommend it to everyone; just be aware, you may find it difficult to understand and rather far-fetched at times.

  • Friedrich Haas
    2018-11-22 09:01

    There was a literal moment when my thinking shifted from hating my father to understanding how his life had broken him. In understanding and forgiving him, I also can do so for myself, and some others. I see how people get broken like bones, and heal with limps, and restrictions, and anger that they can not be who they wanted to be, and they might not realize it within themselves. My father never would have. People never thought that way then. I miss my father now, knowing we could have finally done stuff together and enjoyed each others company. Arguably the most important book in my life. Wish I had had it while he was still alive, but it was still important to the quality of the rest of my life.

  • Sahar
    2018-12-15 14:01

    داستان محوری کتاب، داستان ساده ای بود اما تحلیل و توضیحی که نویسنده از اتفاقات بیان کرده بود بسیار زیبا و روشن کننده بود. میتوان گفت این کتاب به نوعی سفر خودشناسی برای مردان است و دانستن اطلاعات ارائه شده در آن برای خانمها هم مفید فایده است. اتفاق جالبی که در حین خواندن کتاب برایم افتاد این بود که با توجه به اینکه نویسنده آن یک آقا بود و طبعا دید حاکم بر کتاب دید مردانه بود، به دنبال کتابی مشابه با دیدگاهی زنانه میگشتم و به جای کتاب با انیمیشن موآنا که یک سفر خودشناسی زنانه ست روبه رو شدم. توصیه میکنم هم این کتاب خوانده شود و هم آن انیمیشن را ببینید.

  • Nestor Leal
    2018-11-26 08:11

    Jungian analysis of manhood in Brothers Grimm's Iron John fairy tale. A bit elaborate but still interesting.

  • Claxton
    2018-11-16 08:13

    SO MUCH I disagree with, am concerned by, etc., but this book made me think more, take more notes, annotate harder, reach for other sources, consider my life more than any book I've read in I don't know how long. Dangerous, perhaps, but fascinating, and enlightening if read carefully, I think.

  • Qiaochu Yuan
    2018-12-01 07:15

    Wow. Ow.

  • Peter
    2018-11-16 09:55

    Done in Robert's own special style. I could hear his voice as I read the book. An excellent book recommended for all guys and women if they want a glimpse into men's inner workings.

  • Morgan Blackledge
    2018-12-13 07:04

    Stupendous. Brilliant.Wonderful.Charming.Inspired. Magical. Loved it :-)

  • Todd
    2018-12-15 07:55

    In my ongoing attempt at self-improvement -- or self-understanding, or whatever -- I finally picked up "Iron John," Robert Bly's 1990 bestseller that gave rise to a thousand drum-beating retreats.I've been a male for all of my 51 years, but I'm not sure I've ever been a man, or what "being a man" means. I'm hopeless with tools and my last experience with playing football was in junior high school. I'm not a huge fan of action films or explosions. I used to not cry -- "boys don't cry," right? -- but I realized the foolishness of that when I suffered the painful, irreplaceable losses that every human being goes through, whether breakups or death. I've tried to be compassionate and good, and I hope that counts for something, but whether it's manly or simply humane is beyond me.Bly uses the story of Iron John, which comes to many of us through a Grimm fairy tale, to illustrate his points. Iron John is a wild man (or Wild Man, as Bly has it) who lives in the forest. He is eventually captured by a nearby kingdom and housed in a cage, but is freed by the king's son and returns to the forest with the kid. Iron John then becomes a father figure to the boy, urging in him caution, then industriousness, then warlike strength, and finally wisdom and confidence. Bly departs from the tale many times to explain its symbolism and lament the lack of men in Western society, noting that icy distance nor wanton violence nor pure sensitivity makes a man.I think he makes some good points, and given my fascination with Jungian psychology, there was plenty of food for thought. But oh, this book became a slog after awhile. Bly grasps for ancient tales and mythology as if trying to round up all buried knowledge, but instead of clear connections, his meandering writing feels more like digressions surrounding his main point. A poet, he quotes himself (and, to his credit, some others), weakening the book. (His poetry, at least the material in "Iron John," is far weaker than, say, Yeats, Blake or Frost.) What's worse is that he comes across as an anthropology dilettante -- which is not to say that he doesn't know his stuff, just that he's so enthusiastic about offering it that it comes across as messy and unfocused. This may have made a better longish essay. (It does make me want to read a book on the Grimm brothers to see how they compiled their fairy tales, and if they were aware of all the psychological resonances we see today.)He does make one excellent point towards the end. When "Iron John" came out, it was criticized as suggesting that men get back in touch with nature and their own raw interiors to become better men -- that is, promoting the undisciplined, beastly side of males. But that isn't Bly's point at all, as he notes: "The aim is not to BE the Wild Man, but to be IN TOUCH WITH the Wild Man ... in American culture, past and present, we find people who want to be the Wild Man -- writers as intelligent as Kerouac fail to make the distinction between being, and being in touch with." And, indeed, the tale of Iron John ends by revealing that Iron John was a king himself who had been enchanted, presumably for some violation of nature or spirit. He, too, had to learn discipline.It's a nice message and one that resonates with me. But it took a long time to get there with Bly.

  • Steve Rider
    2018-12-11 14:17

    Iron John is the first book I've read that's specifically aimed at for fathers of boys. This was recommended to me by Elliot Hulse and I enjoyed the majority of it. Occasionally poems and some of the analogies became a little confusing or too artsy, but overall the messages were powerful tools for the dedicated father looking to guide their sons to be the strongest version of themselves.The biggest takeaway for me was the missing "initiation" of men in our society. Most indigenous cultures had their boys go through some ceremony or act of rising up to be a man. Right now, our young men lack that specific step. Strangely, in my own upbringing, I had a sort of male initiation playing pickup basketball with my father. Battling it out with grown men when you're 14-16 years old was truly a "coming of age" experience for me, and has likely guided me, at least in some degree, to enjoy the success I have at the corporate level.Another meaningful point was that with fathers going away from the home for work, as they often have done since the Industrial Revolution, sons tend to lack the guidance necessary that they innately need from grown men. Again, strangely, I was immune to this while growing up as my father worked out of a home office. Since I travel for work, I may need to make an effort to drag my son to work one of these days. He'll probably hate it, but it's good for him to see what his old man does.

  • Knut
    2018-11-18 12:52

    One can be cynical about Iron John, indeed. Yes, it’s a bit like Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan accounts. But wasn’t that a cool dude? Yes, its fuzzy. But who expects a poet to write like a scientist? Yes, Bly wrote Iron John after his 24-year marriage to award winning essayist Carol Bly ended 1979 in divorce. But isn’t this book a constructive way to digest those years and man’s identity in general? If a piece of literature, which is written in a novel style like Iron John, stays for 62 weeks on the NYT bestseller list, then it must have strung a chord with a wide readership - not male only – and must be put on compulsory reading lists for generations to come. I was lucky to get the recommendation. The NYT bestseller list finds for reasons of brevity only one sentence to describe Iron John: The passage of the male from boyhood into manhood, as practiced in various cultures. The book is though so much more. In style it is a marvelous and to me novel blend of non fiction and poetry. It is an encyclopedia of tales, legends and myths which span from Homer to the Brothers Grimm, from the South American Hopis to the North American Senecas, from Pre-Christian Celtic culture to the roots of Hinduism. In contents it touches deep on the essence of man’s psyche with eloquent reference to Freud, Reich and in particular Jung. Bly somehow manages to cut through the subjects of psychology, education and religion with the blade of a poet and creates from the resulting slumps a, yes, fuzzy, but beautiful new body of thought. It is not a coincidence, I think, that Martin E. Seligman, by some called the modern father of positive psychology, published in the same year as Iron John a popular scientific volume titled Learned Optimism. He writes there that most of the developed world experiences an unprecedented epidemic of depression – particularly among young people. Why is that in a nation that has more money, more power, more records, more books, and more education, that depression should be so much more prevalent than it was when the nation was less prosperous and less powerful? He elaborates that three forces have converged: An inflated “I” failing in its own eyes relative to its goals; an erosion of the “WE”, i.e. faith in God, community, nation, and the large extended family give way to the I; and the self-esteem movement.Seligman did without doubt point at a very important development in the affluent West, and was at center stage to develop the probably single most important and most widely recognized psychotherapy method, the cognitive behavioral therapy, but he did miss an important point, which Bly understood very well: positive thought and thus constructive behavior alone can’t make up for a culture which does not satisfy our human needs in terms of developmental psychology. Bly might not have been familiar with the theories of Erik Erickson or Jean Liedlhoff, but he clearly observed that the progress of the industrial revolution did deprive society of essential characteristics which make man (and woman) whole and sane. What he observed throughout the 1980s in an America which experienced the third Industrial Revolution in full swing is still true today: The traditional way of raising sons, which lasted for thousands and thousands of years, amounted to fathers and sons living in close – murderously close – proximity, while the father taught the son a trade: perhaps farming or carpentry or blacksmithing or tailoring. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the love unit most damaged by the Industrial Revolution has been the father-son bond. […] The grief in men has been increasing steadily since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the grief has reached a depth now that cannot be ignored.’, he writes somewhere else without knowing that about 30 years later mental health data in most industrial nations confirms this grief with a 3:1 men-women-ratio in suicides - in many societies as the second most frequent cause of death.Bly writes in Iron John at length about a missing element in modern culture, which is the ritual of initiation. He writes only about the male initiation, but concedes that initiation is needed for both sexes and falls victim to the social changes brought upon the Industrial Revolution, the separation of labor and the substitution of small communities with large societies. The fault of the nuclear family today isn’t so much that it’s crazy and full of double binds (that’s true in communes and corporate offices too – in fact, in any group). The fault is that the old men outside the nuclear family no longer offer an effective way for the son to break his link with his parents without doing harm to himself. […] Much of that chance or incidental mingling has ended. Men’s clubs and societies have steadily disappeared. Grandfathers live in Phoenix or the old people’s home, and many boys experience only the companionship of other boys their age who, from the point of view of the old initiators, know nothing at all. […] The German psychologist Alexander Mitscherlich writes about this father-son crisis in his book called Society Without the Father. The gist of his idea is that if the son does not actually see what his father does during the day and through all the seasons of the year, a hole will appear in the son’s psyche and the hole will fill with demons who tell him that his father’s work is evil and that the father is evil.Bly’s insights have therefore rightly led to an entire mythopoetic movement which builds on the assumption that men of all ages have to come closer again to, well, mend traumas, forge identity and develop suitable roles for 21st century mankind. However, I feel that such a holistic psychology approach of going on retreats with likeminded men or meet regularly in self help groups, can only late in life satisfy some, if any needs at all. Men, aged 35 to 50, working on the separation from their parents, which they were not able to undergo due to lack of initiation, are, yes, deplorable, but shouldn’t be a social norm. Coolness, which Bly uncovers as a mask of the uninitiated men who lack empathy, shall not be an accepted behavior, even if the newly elected US president displays it as daily routine. A genuine change in culture, is what is actually required to experience true brotherhood, not only amongst men, but in society at large at the respective age of evolutionarily defined psychological development. There is a strong need to internalize this feeling of brotherhood, which most of us, growing up as automatons in mechanized societies, don’t know at all. War correspondent Sebastian Junger describes the power of and the addiction to brotherhood, which soldiers face once deprived of it in civil society. They idealize war and want to get back into combat asap. No, I don’t idealize war, but I point at the connection between genuine brotherhood and altruism as formulated in many religions e.g. in the Christian Great Commandment Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Bly extends his analysis specifically to the work environment. Contemporary business life allows competitive relationships only, in which the major emotions are anxiety, tension, loneliness, rivalry, and fear. After work what do men do? Collect in a bar to hold light conversations over light beer, unities which are broken off whenever a young woman comes by or touches the brim of someone’s cowboy hat. Having no soul union with other men can be the most damaging wound of all.Iron John is not cool and superficially strong, but wild and deeply emphatic. Bly writes that mythological systems associate hair with the instinctive and the sexual and the primitive. What I’m suggesting, then, is that every modern male has, lying at the bottom of his psyche, a large, primitive being covered with hair down to his feet. Making contact with this Wild Man is the step the Eighties male or the Nineties male has yet to take. The 21st century Western male tried to fill this void superficially with the full beard hipster movement, but most women clearly sense that behind fragile boys loom behind the hairiness. That’s why some women recently posted on facebook pictures of full beard hipsters with the caption: Don’t wear a full beard if you can’t kill an animal. Its not about the hair. Its about being wild, i.e. courageous. And there we have a problem in the post-modern Western world which is still stuck in its collective unconscious Judeo-Christian mindset. Bly explains, that the ethical superstructure of popular Christianity does not support the Wild Man, though there is some suggestion that Christ himself did. The metaphysical superstructure of the Judeo-Christian tradition is dualistic in its essence, therefore the Wild Man is considered as a whole evil and as such physical desires in their entirety if not straight out sinful, then at least weird. Jesus was a mystic who recognized that dualism is only a method of the analytical mind to describe the spiritual and moral world. He never condemned anybody in his entirety, knowing that there are more than 50 shades of grey. Bly writes somewhere else that ‘If the wild man returns to his forest while the boy remains in the castle, the fundamental historical split in the psyche between primitive man and the civilized man would reestablish itself in the boy.’ The wild man can therefore be understood as the incarnation of the Freudian it, which we have pushed in its entirety into hell, whereas our superegos save us to heaven. Quite the opposite is the consequence. Bly continues: Eventually a man needs to throw off all indoctrination and begin to discover for himself what the father is and what masculinity is. For that task, ancient stories are a good help, because they are free of modern psychological prejudices, because they have endured the scrutiny of generations of women and men, and because they give both the light and dark sides of manhood, the admirable and the dangerous. Their model is not a perfect man, nor an overly spiritual man.

  • Arjun Ravichandran
    2018-11-25 06:17

    This is quite a profound book, that sits uneasily at the interjections of mythology, psychology, and literary criticism. The author, through the beautiful use of a framing device (an ancient Germanic fairy tale collected by the Grimm brothers), investigates the morass of contemporary masculinity. Fundamentally, the problem with today's men has nothing to do with the men themselves ; rather, it is the destruction of a healthy masculine tradition, and the consequent destruction of appropriate initiation rituals, that leaves men in the modern era feeling rootless, disempowered, with weak boundaries, and, having been stripped of their relevance and identity, hoping to achieve both by collaborating with the feminine principle in order to redeem the endarkened Father (a metaphor for masculinity itself). One only has to remember Camille Paglia's quip ("A woman simply becomes a woman. A man must prove that he has become a man.") , to recognize the the fundamental validity of the author's concern over the loss of male initiation rituals, and broadly, the loss of a larger masculine tradition and community. The book, too, is a beautiful thing, sprinkled with profound poems (the author's own, as well as by other luminaries), literary meditations, dwellings on Ancient Greece and Egypt, before revisiting the framing-story at strategic intervals. It is simultaneously a hymn of despair and hope.

  • Zubin Mehta-Rao
    2018-11-26 13:55

    First off, I want to point out that this book is not for everyone. One of the obvious groups being women. Of course, some women will enjoy this book, but after reading Robert Bly's "Iron John" I can completely understand if this book fails to connect with the female reader. Another group this will not connect with are people expecting something like: "Ok, men, you need to do this because you are a big strong man and need to take back what is yours by nature. Also, f**k feminism." If you are expecting this, then "Iron John" is not for you. Those who are looking for a self help book of sorts will also be let down. This book will open a path for you, but it is up for you to walk it. "Iron John" is not meant to hold your hand. As a man in his early twenties, this book really connected with me. Without going into details, Iron John helps reader understand what the male feels and how it has been represented and understood throughout history through different forms of poetry and mythology. With this rather clever method, Bly is able to help the modern male understand those feelings that he could never understand before, and why they might be present in his life. In the end, "Iron John" gave me a new insight into my own psyche and helped me gain a better understanding of myself that will be invaluable in my path forward.

  • Miloš Vukotić
    2018-11-19 12:02

    I'm not a book critic nor do I feel that my opinion matters, but I do feel obliged to say something about this book (mainly because I read the comments below). This book covers one of those subjects which give a lot of space for 'selective perception' - depending on your previous convictions (and prejudices) you may find "Iron John" either disgusting or wonderful, foolish or wise. A true example of a cognitive bias of which one may read at websites like YouAreNotSoSmart dot com.Anyway, try to understand that this book is not a macho manifesto, nor it says anything against women. Humanity has upgraded itself during the last century and both men and women have tossed away some "things" as unnecessary, but experience teaches us that some of those customs/habits/thoughts are still much needed, because world is a bad place if you are a weak whining wimp, and it's hard to be someones father/husband if you still are your mama's little boy... Iron John is a book about those "things", it may not give you the definite answer and it may not be a bible, but it is a great book. And since you decided not to hate Friedrich Nietzsche's books because Nazis misinterpreted them, you also shouldn't hate this book because, you know... :-)