Review of 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas


I recently joined a program called “BookSneeze”, a program run by  Th0mas Nelson (a Christian book publisher) that provides bloggers with advance copies of books and asks them to review them. (If you’d like more information on the program yourself, you can check it out here).

There was a time when I was a voracious reader of Christian books, but as I’ve grown a bit older that’s waned a bit; ironically because lately I’ve been going through a little bit of a mid-life crisis myself and could use a little bit of direction. And so I figured I’d try my hand at being a book reviewer.

The first book I chose was Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas. I actually first found out about Eric Metaxas from an old boss of mine, who when we were both working in Manhattan told me about a non-profit event in the City called  “Socrates in the City”. I went to my first event, and I loved it. Admittedly, as much as I love my church, I’ve been a little estranged from it lately because its leaders have become increasingly insular and didactic. Socrates was a breath of fresh air because it was just a gathering of all kinds of people–professionals like myself, students, clergy, journalists, none of whom were trying to convert each other to their own church, but all of whom were there to just “think about the bigger questions in life”.

The first time I went to a Socrates event, I was blown away. Bear in mind that New York City has become a cesspool of secularism and political correctness, so finding a group of people–professionals no less–who shared my belief in Christ and had minds that were open to hearing new perspectives was certainly like finding an oasis in the desert. I couldn’t help but feel that in some small way, this is what the early Christians in the Roman Empire must have felt like when they huddled in dark corners of households talking to each other about Jesus Christ. Granted, those early Christians didn’t have fancy hors d’oeuvres and meet in fancy rented rooms.

When I went to my first event, one of the highlights was seeing a little guy with glasses step up to the podium and introduce the guest speaker. It was somewhere between a formal introduction and a Dean Martin Roast. He would at times be poignant, at times be deep and inspiring, at times be witty, and at times be downright silly and sarcastic. But most of all, he spoke genuinely and from the heart with a style that made you feel like you knew him all your life.

I soon learned that this was Eric Metaxas, and I became a big fan. 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).

Admittedly, hearing Eric speak helped me appreciate his writing immensely more than I perhaps might have otherwise. This isn’t a dry history book–it’s full of the same kinds of characteristics that I described he uses in his speaking above.

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.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.