Book Review: The Complete Gentleman

Miner, Brad. The Complete Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry. 3rd Revised Edition (Washington D. C., Regnery Gateway, 2021)

The reviews on this book were mixed, with several complaining because it was not a guide to manners and behavior – that is, it doesn’t give a clear “do this, don’t do that.” Instead the author discusses the history of the idea of chivalry and who was chivalrous, the Victorian concept of gentleman, and possible large ways to shift behavior and thinking in order to be a better, more chivalrous, gentleman.

Brad Miner points to the movie Titanic and the behavior of some young men while watching it, specifically their mocking the actions of some of the upper-class male passengers. That got Miner to thinking about chivalry, the standards men held themselves to, and where it all began. Thus the book goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, notably the Stoic philosophers and Aristotle, the medieval ideals of knighthood and chivalry, the Victorian reinterpretation of those ideals, good examples and horrible warnings, and so on.

Miner breaks the gentleman into three main aspects – warrior, lover, and monk. He looks at each in turn, and how these three aspects blend together in a medieval or Victorian man. Then he casts his gaze at the present day and the younger generation. How can you be reticent and restrained in the age of social media and “post your feeeeeeelings!”? Miner points to Castiglione’s The Courtier, and the idea that became sprezzatura, the appearance of effortless grace (which applies to men and women, just in different ways.)

There’s a lot to chew on here, especially if you are the parent of a boy, or a young man trying to be better. Being a gentleman is about aspiring to better. We can’t be perfect. But we can be better, we can raise the bar for ourselves, be it in conduct, physical skill, dress, faith . . . The book is a lot of “what is a gentleman” instead of “how to be a gentleman.” Miner implies that if you work on the mind-set, the how-to will follow. I’d add that having a few carefully chosen guides and role-models will help a lot, for man or woman. Because women need to understand the origins of the idea of gentleman, in order to encourage more of them, and to raise them.

The book reads well. It is somewhat breezy, a bit pop-history at times, but his sources check out, and that’s probably the best tone to take. People don’t like reading hundreds of pages of Polonius, or Lord Chesterfield. Many of the sources are Christian, which fits the culture, but Miner points out that you don’t have to be a Christian to aspire to certain virtues. He tends to keep politics out of the work, although there are a few “don’t do this” moments. Alas, vice knows no time nor country. Miner might have given more time to the critics of masculinity, if only to show some of the flaws in their thinking, but that’s not his goal.

I’d recommend it for young men and women, parents of young men and women, anyone curious about where the ideas of “gentleman” came from, and people interested in popular understandings of European medieval culture.

FTC Notice: I purchased this book for my own use and was given no remuneration by either the author or the publisher.


6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Complete Gentleman

  1. But but… Gentleman is a Social Class just under titled nobility and above Commoners.

    Behavior doesn’t matter! Either you’re a member of that Social Class or you’re not a member of that Social Class! [Very Very Big Sarcastic Grin]

    Seriously, it sounds interesting. 😀

  2. Paul has a good point. However, ‘my’ generation was taught to treat women with respect and be courteous to them, otherwise our mothers will come up out of the grave and slap us silly…

    • Nod. I consider “being a gentleman” as simple politeness but C. S. Lewis introduced me to the idea that “gentleman was a male member of a certain Social Class” not “a manner of behavior”.

      Oh, in one Lord Peter Wimsey story, two female servants were talking about Lord Peter Wimsey’s policeman friend.

      The younger servant commented that the policeman was a gentleman (meaning his behavior).

      The older servant replied that he may be acting as a gentleman should behave, but he was not a gentleman (social status).

      I found the conversation interesting. 😀

  3. I think my deepest exposure to the concept of a gentleman was in a fanfic where Ranma Saotome is piloting Evangelions against Mythos powers in post war 1940s Japan. Yes, it made a lot of sense.

  4. For those with a multicultural orientation, there is also such a thing as a Chinese gentleman. Its a different tradition than the Western, but a comparison/contrast might be useful.

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