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‘Action with Intent’
Blood Brotherhood and Other Rites of Male Alliance by Nathan F. Miller and Jack Donovan
© 2014 James LaFond
MAR/4/14
2013 [2nd edition], originally released in 2009, Dissonant Hum, Milwaukie, Oregon, 204 pages, with extensive front matter and back matter
First off Blood Brotherhood is a handsome book, as fine example of a trade paperback you are going to find. Don’t settle for the e-book.
If you have read The Way of Men you should read this. If you read this, you will feel compelled to read The Way of Men. Nathan and Jack have provided a thought provoking ‘toolbox for the imagination’. Blood Brotherhood is also a much needed survey of a pervasive rite among men from the Stone Age to the Postmodern Age.
This work is obviously the seedbed for Jack’s The Way of Men. His introduction, A Timeless Way to Forge Bonds Between Men, is an incisive full-length essay. While in The Way of Men Jack focuses on man ‘the gang member’, in Blood Brotherhood the focus is on man the individual making an honorable pact with another individual without [necessarily] social sanction, to form bonds that supersede, and often defy or even undermine, the larger society.
Based on Jack’s introduction and afterword, Nathan wrote the body of the book, or at least did the research. I would compare his work with Flesh and Blood by Reay Tannahill, Frazer’s Golden Bough, and Joseph Campbell’s Flight of the Wild Gander. The Nathan-Jack style comes off with less flare than Reay, is more readable than Frazer and Campbell, and bests all of them for clarity and accessibility. It is what a survey is supposed to be, a reference, with the added perk of being very readable.
My readability scale is rated in pages per an hour. Ketchum, Burroughs, Howard, L’Amour, I read at 100 per an hour. British and female authors and academics take me down as far as 30 an hour. Nathan and Jack come in at a crisp 60 an hour—very nice for non-fiction.
What makes Blood Brotherhood so readable, and accessible as a research tool, is the concise nature of the entries and their great variety. The authors provide 34 traditions and fictional treatments of blood brotherhood rituals from around the world and across time. The best aspect of their treatment is the inclusion of a handful of ‘meta-family’ voluntary kinship associations from ancient history thru the 20th Century that do not involve bloodletting. This provides context.
Blood Brotherhood closes with a subject of current relevance: tattooing, as the ritual in which male-bonding traditions of the past have coalesced in the present.
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