WHY I READ THIS BOOK
So after reading three books on the current economic downturn in America, it was time for a change of topic. I started going to the gym consistently again the past couple of months and a book on health seemed appropriate. It was actually by chance I came across this book on display at the campus library. Why Men Die First had just been released and was on display in the new book section. If you’re a health conscious guy and you accidentally come across this book, chances are you do a double take and at least read the back cover; especially when it appends the title with How to Lengthen Your Lifespan. So I checked it out and it took two tries to get it done. You’ll see why in my review below.
THE AUTHOR: MARIANNE J. LEGATO
Dr. Legato is an internationally known women’s health specialist. Which makes it interesting that she wrote a book about men. However, she is also well known as the founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. The partnership is interested in research that produces a better understanding of the differences between men and women. It is also apparent that her observations of her dad throughout her life tremendously influenced this book. Her residency was in cardiology and branched out more into gender-specific medicine a few years later. She is also the author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget.
The chapters are organized in the stages of male life and describes the challenges and vulnerabilities of each stage. For example, the second chapter, Beginnings: Surviving the Womb and the First Weeks of Life describe how the female fetus has a much better chance of surviving until birth than the male fetus. Not just surviving, but being more developed and self-reliant at birth. Some of these chapters are already well-known, such as Men and Cancer, Sports: The Price Men Pay, and The Male Libido: Men and Sex. The chapter on cancer is pretty much what one would expect. Legato goes through the dangers of the cancers that men are most vulnerable to, prostate (image right, courtesy of Abbot Diagnostics), lung (mostly due to smoking), colon and testicular. She mixes stories of her experience as a doctor to show that men are afraid to get preventive exams. The stories are a nice addition to the typical scientific relay of information. However, the fact that the people she talks about are nameless, there’s not as much oomph to the stories. Also, there are so many stories because she has seen so many patients, that it also makes it a little detached. Her writing is easy to read and understand. Each chapter is sectioned off into smaller topics and nicely labeled. However, in books like this, it’s hard to avoid using medical terms, such prostate specific antigen (PSA), adenomatosis polyposis coli (APC), and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA).
There’s not much persuasion to get men to be a proactive and responsible person. The only methods are equating it to women going through gynecological exams, or the usual “catch it early and you’ll have a better chance to survive” saying. Another chapter is The Male Libido: Men and Sex. Pretty straightforward here as well. Men love sex. Men always think about sex. Men by nature are not meant to be monogamous. A lot of men have erectile dysfunction. Testosterone is both good and bad. The suggestions are also well-known. Use condoms. Be as monogamous as possible. Have regular exams if you are promiscuous.
I was more interested in the chapters that most men do not know about. The ones that don’t define the stereotypes of manhood. The silent killers. The two chapters that stick out with this in mind are Educating Boys: How Well are we Doing? and Male Depression: It’s Causes, Expression, and Treatment. Legato brings some interesting ideas from the field that most of us are not aware of. One suggestion is having gender specific education for children. In other words, all-boys classes and all-girls classes. Because boys mentally mature slower than girls, it might be a good idea to taylor teach each gender. The idea of depression and man is tough to understand. It is under-diagnosed due to the stigma that males should just work through it. However, more and more people are understanding that females deal with stress and challenges much better than males. Males are pretty unidirectional and goal-oriented that all other aspects of their lives are neglected. This was the most interesting chapter, that I wished it was longer. Maybe it shows how little male depression is known. However, the number of statistics used to convince the reader that males have issues with depression is probably a little overboard.
Since the second part of the title, How to Lengthen your Lifespan, is one of the reasons I picked up this book, I expected a long final chapter on what a man can do to, well, lengthen his lifespan. Maybe something of a checklist through life or a lifelong way of living that would help in having a more healthy and longer life. There was no such chapter. It seems that what the author had in mind for this part of the title was the little suggestions in the chapters and the small little boxes at the end of some of the chapters that ask you to keep some things in mind. Were the numerous statistics used throughout the book supposed to scare the reader into change? I must admit, as a guy reading this book, I skipped some of the statistics. That’s when I put the book down the first time. The statistics and some of the obvious stuff started boring me. The second time I picked up I finished it, but skimmed half the time.
This book is a nice start because it’s a book in a new genre about male vulnerabilities and gender-specific medicine, which I find very important to the survival of the male gender post-feminism. Legato mentions that what men need is something equivalent to the feminist movement. Men need to start realizing their own vulnerabilities and taking action before it’s too late. However, not enough suggestions are made. She mentions having a healthy diet and exercising, but she doesn’t go into detail about what to eat and how to exercise to increase lifespan. For example, she might have mentioned that doing cardio work is healthier than the more popular weighlifting. She mentions reducing stress and talking about personal problems to reduce the potential of depression. However, these are obvious suggestions and doesn’t offer any new insight into male longevity. The title of this book should simply be Why Men Die First. This is a why book and not a how book. Even as a why book, I found myself skipping several sections that either didn’t pertain to me or interest me, like Syphilis: The “Great Imitator” or Firemen (we know why firemen have dangerous jobs).
Overall, this book is a fun read for the most part. Too much in society has focused on women being the weaker gender. “Be a man!” “You throw like a girl!” “Stop being a pussy” “Men don’t cry!” “Being in touch with your feminine side” It’s time the scientific community see men as being vulnerable. In my experiences watching and talking to men and women, I must say, although women are more outwardly emotional, men seem to have a tough time being open-minded, patient, mentally strong and responsible. It’s time to openly discuss this. Or soon, as many people have alluded to, women will not need men!