Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men
by Michael Kimmel
(Harper, $25.95)

Young men in America live on their own island, says sociologist Michael Kimmel. It’s crowded there, but lonely. Fellow inhabitants talk trash, but they don’t share. They watch sports and porn and binge-drink together and treat women merely as prospects for one-night stands. Roughly a half-century ago, almost 70 percent of men in the U.S. had by age 30 completed their educations, left home, started work, married, and fathered at least one child. Today, fewer than a third of men that age can make the same claim. They fiercely defend their right to an extended adolescence, says Kimmel. But the culture they’ve created is making many of them miserable.

It’s also making them dangerous, said James Hannaham in Kimmel’s “bleak and urgent” guide to the stage of life he labels “Guyland” is sympathetic to the social and economic pressures that drive young men into such a defensive crouch. But he cautions against “boys will be boys” dismissals of a phenomenon that is too often expressed as bullying, gay bashing, and date rape. Economics have played a major role in isolating Guyland’s inhabitants, said Holly Brubach in The New York Times. Wages for working men ages 25 to 34 declined 17 percent from 1971 to 2002. Stripped of their breadwinning role, men cling together longer and wind up building social lives that are, at heart, performances for one another. “Any woman” could have told the author this. But Kimmel’s book also “makes a persuasive case” that the very bedrock of Guyland is an effort on the part of every unmarried man to prove “constantly and repeatedly” that he’s not gay.

Kimmel overplays some of his evidence, said Wesley Yang, also in the Times. Guys who vent pent-up frustrations on sports-talk radio don’t deserve to be put in the same category as the participants in a high school gang rape. Yet this book “bristles with excellent raw material,” and has named and vividly sketched the outlines of a significant social trend. I’ve lived it—and I, for one, want out, said Tony Dokoupil in Newsweek. My buddies seem to think I’m betraying them by marrying at 27, but Kimmel’s book was all the proof I needed that “the very thing they’re running from” may be the thing they need most.