I first saw Eric Metaxas when I attended a Socrates in the City event in Manhattan, and I became a big fan. From the first time I heard him speak, I knew he had a kind of style that someone who grew up in the New York area--a style that was sometimes poignant, sometimes deep, sometimes inspiring, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes downright silly. but always authentic and genuine.
I read his book on William Wilberforce cover-to-cover. I've heard amazing things about his book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but unfortunately I haven't gotten a chance to finish it yet, as it's the kind of book you really need to read without much interruption, and that kind of time is kind of hard to find in my life these days. And admittedly, my attention span is more of the Twitter variety than the War and Peace variety, so I really need to get myself in the mood to read a 600 page book, no matter how well-written it might be.
Enter Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness. This was the perfect book for me. Instead of being one long book, it's like getting seven mini-books in one; I could finish one of the "mini-books" in just a few sessions of my morning commute (and admittedly, at times the content was so compelling I snuck in some pages after I got to the office).
The book is broken into seven sections, each focusing on a mini-biography of a different man. The men are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson.
I admit that I've gotten awful tired of reading contemporary biographies. Today's historians have gotten as secular and politically correct as the rest of the world, and it's painfully clear that, intentionally or not, they inject their biases into their work. In one of the supposed "great" recent biographies of George Washington, for example, extensive numbers of pages felt like they were taken out of today's tabloids: how many women did Washington have affairs with? What drove his ambitions? What did he do to achieve greatness? It might as well have been a biography about Denzel Washington.
In so many contemporary biographies of men of greatness, there's one thing clearly missing: God. I won't attribute this to some grand conspiracy; but it is just a sign of the times where the mere mention of religion can set off all kinds of political correctness bells and can instantly discredit a historian who wishes to be respected in academia.
What I love about this book is that not only does it *not* leave out descriptions of each of these men's faith in God nor relegate it to a few lines; it provides a clear and objective case that faith played an active role in these men's lives, not only in helping them achieve great things, but also in helping them maintain perspective and humility after they achieved it. And it does this without proselytizing or being "preachy". It just tells the men's stories, objectively and honesty and, for once, completely.
What I love about what Metaxas did here was that these aren't mere "Cliff's Notes" versions of each man's biography. Instead, Metaxas focuses on moments in each man's life that tell you about his character, moments that a lot of history books tend to gloss over as a footnote. Most of us know, for example, that George Washington declined to serve a third term. But did you know that he went out of his way to end what might have been a rebellion from the Army of the nascent United States after being mistreated by politicians in the early Congress? Most of us know the story of Eric Liddell that was told in the movie "Chariots of Fire", but did you know about what happened afterwards, and how he gave his life to be a missionary to China?
In a lot of ways, I see this book almost as a "sequel" to Hebrews chapter 11. Yes, we can admire these men for the great things they achieved from a historical perspective. But this book gives us insight into the faith and the principles that helped them achieve them. And in a world where young people more or more see their "heroes" as those celebrities who make the most money, or business leaders who make the most money, or reality TV stars who make the most money, or sports figures who make the most money--this book should be required reading for everyone.
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