This was the first book I've read by bell hooks- I was previously familiar with her work, but hadn't yet read a full piece. A bit of context about me as a reader, because I think that's a very important aspect of how this book will be received: I'm a man who considers himself a feminist ally. I do buy into the idea of feminism as important for the health and well-being of not only women, but men as well, so some of my reaction to this book may lie in the fact that it speaks directly to my interests. I have some prior familiarity with mythopoetic men's movement books like "King, Warrior, Magician, Lover" and "Iron John", which hooks addresses. For me, as someone who is working to develop my sense of identity as a thoughtful, respectful, compassionate man, this book was exactly what I wanted at this point in my development.
If you're not familiar with bell hooks, she is a proponent of intersectionality - basically, the belief that privilege isn't necessarily a monolithic characteristic that lies only with specific groups, but rather a more fluid interaction between different characteristics of individuals as they relate to one another. A white woman and a black woman may both experience gender discrimination, but it may not be in the same way or to the same degree, based on the additional factor of race. (Don't take my explanation as airtight - I'm just trying to provide context.)
Given this philosophy, hooks is able to provide a keen inspection of the ways in which patriarchy not only benefits men, but also harms them. If you hold the unfortunately common (and mistaken) belief that feminism sees straight, white men as "the bad guy", hooks will skewer that. She speaks to some of the societal structures that place unequal burdens on men, or teach us harmful ways of viewing ourselves, without losing sight of the fact that those same structures are harmful to women, people of color, and other minority classes. She does this with INCREDIBLE compassion and even-handedness - in fact, I would say that hooks' ability to discuss this incredibly charged subject matter with such an unwavering sense of caring, fairness, and courage is the single best thing about the entire book. Unlike some who claim to advocate for men, hooks speaks to these issues in a way that unifies and encourages understanding, rather than making one group or another into the boogeyman.
There are a few areas which I found challenging and didn't necessarily agree with 100% - there's a section where she briefly discusses Dworkin, whose beliefs are challenging for most men, but she definitely doesn't shy away from talking about radical feminists and the reality of misandry (overblown as it may be in many circles). She doesn't deny that there are some feminists who have driven men away with anger, but she also doesn't pretend that they're a majority - nor does she pretend they don't exist because that might be more convenient. I was a little concerned when the subject came up at first, but she handles it so well that I came away with a sense of greater understanding and compassion. Similarly, she sometimes references Bly (Iron John) and disagrees with aspects of his philosophy (basically, how his work views women)- I see her point where she makes it, didn't necessarily agree completely, but again: she does it in such a way that I don't feel baited or dismissed, but as if I'm just hearing the opinions of someone who is clearly very educated, opinionated, and above all, dedicated to compassion and fairness.
Overall, this book speaks to a very charged subject with unerring maturity, insight, and compassion. If you're able to read it with an open mind and heart, you'll likely find it as moving as I did. There are places where hooks speaks to painful realities of manhood with such clarity that it hurts, but in the end she reveals a path to greater connectedness, compassion, and emotional health.