In Search of Mary Seacole: a ‘wonderfully informative’ biography

Helen Rappaport sets out to bring ‘clarity to Seacole’s life’

Flowers are placed near the statue of Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole
Flowers are placed near the statue of Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole on 23 March 2021
(Image credit: Jonathan Brady/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

In this “forceful and rather unusual” book, Nina Power contends that a “war on men” is being waged in many Western countries, said Jay Elwes in The Spectator. Men, the philosopher suggests, are continually denigrated in popular culture: they are depicted as violent, selfish and lazy – and masculinity itself as irredeemably “toxic”.

This “all-out assault”, Power argues, ignores the reality that many men in today’s world feel increasingly useless and marginalised. In fact, it risks re-enacting the kind of negative group stereotyping that has so often facilitated prejudice in the past.

Power thinks there are fundamental differences between men and women and that society should go with the grain of the masculine character, said Louise Perry in The Times. She advocates a return to traditional male virtues – such as honour, loyalty and courage. “Boys and men must be allowed to be good,” she writes, and “to become better.” For a feminist, her take is “bracingly original” – especially when she engages with such extreme fringes of anti-feminism as the incel movement and the separatist group MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way).

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Many of Power’s sentiments are worthy, but she fails to justify her claim that men are now the subjects of unprecedented demonisation, said Houman Barekat in The Guardian. The “sweeping, simplistic and vaguely sour tone” of the book is characteristic of all too many culture war pieces of recent years.

It’s better than that, said Tim Adams in The Observer. Power’s writing is “provocative and rigorous”, and she raises important questions – particularly about how a generation of young men who feel “marginalised from a consumer society” can be encouraged to achieve a sense of “self-worth and purpose”. And on one point in particular she is surely right: writing off masculinity only makes things worse.

Allen Lane 192pp £18.99; The Week Bookshop £14.99

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