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Honor: A History Hardcover – April 25, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; First Edition edition (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594031428
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594031427
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,029,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The first complete survey of this subject, tracing the evolution of honor as an ideal from the Greeks onward. The subject is in the cultural air at the present, as antagonists argue over whether the "honorable" course is to persevere in Iraq or withdraw and as the honor of U.S. forces is tarnished by the prison abuses scandal. The importance of honor is present in the earliest records of civilization. Today, while it may still be an essential concept in Islamic cultures, in the West, honor has been disparaged and dismissed as obsolete. In this lively and authoritative book, James Bowman traces the curious and fascinating history of this ideal, from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment and to the killing fields of World War I and the despair of Vietnam. Bowman reminds us that the fate of honor and the fate of morality and even manners are deeply interrelated. His book is an indispensable document in a time of growing concern about the erosion of values. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

James Bowman has written for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, The New Criterion and other publications. He was the American Editor of the Times Literary Supplement of London and is currently a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute. Mr. Bowman has appeared on CSPAN. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The book is very readable and I learned a lot from it.
another believer
The text is an outstanding piece of social and cultural history which makes it fairly unique among current titles.
Bernard Chapin
It wasn't quite pride, or to prove I was brave but just to prove that I was at least not a coward.
John W. Taylor

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Thomas T. Worboys on May 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Rightly to be great

Is not to stir without great argument,

But greatly to find quarrel in a straw

When honor's at the stake.

- Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 4

Shakespeare's words regarding the nature of honor are a common refrain in James Bowman's work, and it was an understanding of the same that motivated me to read this monograph. I had hoped to take away an understanding of why something so insubstantial as honor was so prized throughout history over more tangible things, including money, land and even life itself. "Honor: A History" answered this question well in excess of my expectations, and I am pleased to say that one can expect to take away much more than a simple answer to a simple query.

I had, in fact, asked my question largely upon false premises, as my understanding of honor was a postmodern and watered-down appreciation. Fortunately, in the first section of the book, Mr. Bowman defines honor, at its simplest, to be thought of well amongst one's peers. In its most primitive form, honor means that a slight will not go unchallenged. However, as cultures do vary, the notions of honor are not static across all societies, and the notion of "cultural honor" is explored in depth, with particular focus on how Christianity shaped the cultural honor of the West.

The next section keeps its focus on the West and explores the decline and fall of Western cultural honor. The beginning of the end of Western honor is placed in 1914, at the beginning of the Great War, and the decline reaches its terminus at 1975, with the end of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. Three central causes, namely, modernized warfare, psychotherapy and feminism, which Mr.
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119 of 139 people found the following review helpful By T. Berner on May 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Harvey Mansfield's recent book "Manliness" caused quite a stir when it was published early this year. At the risk of overly simplifying his erudite work, "Manliness" is a defense of what he calls "assertiveness." Dr. Mansfield gives only a tepid defense of such behavior, believing it to be fifty percent positive and fifty percent negative.

Personally, I would describe "assertiveness" as a defining element of being a male, common to almost all species and expressed in violence and sexual adventurism. Male behavior also has an unfortunate bully mentality, a tendency to subordinate itself to superior force and assert one's power over lesser beings. Manliness, to my mind, is the concept which regulates such behavior and directs it into socially useful channels, and encourages one to defend one's concept of Right against overwhelming odds. A bar fight is male behavior, the Normandy invasion was manly behavior.

Mr. Bowman would consider my concept of "manliness" to be a peculiarly Western and archaic version of honor. It is hard to compare the two books: Dr. Mansfield's book is a work of philosophy, while Mr. Bowman's book is a history of a social concept (and also an enthralling cultural history of the twentieth century, as viewed through the prism of that concept).

Mr. Bowman's book, however, is by far the more important of the two. First, because, by definition, "assertiveness" doesn't need anyone to defend it. It is still the most important quality to have to succeed in business, and, increasingly, in other professions. Even its avowed enemies fall prey to it, as witness Gloria Steinem's pathetic memoir of the short period of time when she was the main squeeze of an alpha male. Honor, on the other hand, has no defenders.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By another believer on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The book is very readable and I learned a lot from it. The concept of honor has indeed become almost alien to those of us in the West. But it is a large part of what fuels the men and women of those societies we find ourselves at odds with in the Middle East. We must try to understand the honor which motivates our enemies and our potential allies, and it should be required reading for the policy-makers and major writers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bowman points out that there are still honor cultures in America, such as in some ethnic groups and in the military. His own accounts of his later guilt from avoiding service in Vietnam are especially poignant now. Iraq has resurrected the ghost of Vietnam, both for those who served, and those who did not.

I really appreciated the way the author disentangled the concept of honor from Islam. Many of those strictures we find harshest in Islamic society actually predate Islam. However, as Bowman points out, Muslim countries do not have a history of divorcing their culture from their religion.

The reasons for this are simple. Jesus stood against much of the honor code of the Middle East. "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword," and "Turn the other cheek," were invitations to step off the honor-driven cycle of persecution returned with persecution, and violence returned with violence. We Christians have largely not lived up to these ideals, but they have influenced the history of Western law and our political philosophy nonetheless. There is a built-in distrust of honor for honor's sake in our society. Part of this is due to disillusionment with past wars, and part is due to our Christian philosophical heritage.
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