Check it out: ‘Amazing Tales’ of boys and men



"Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys"

By Neil Oliver; William Morrow, 364 pages

“Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys”

By Neil Oliver; William Morrow, 364 pages

Boys to men — a phrase that might cause some of you to think of the R&B vocal group, Boyz II Men, but in the case of this week’s book, the phrase refers to the process of moving from childhood to adulthood. In truth, the book focuses on more than that. The author, an archaeologist and BBC television personality, writes in the introduction to “Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys” that “men used to live by the skills of their hands … Their jobs had names that are becoming unfamiliar to us as callused hands and ingrained dirt. They were fitters, turners and carpenters; blacksmiths and wheelwrights; plowmen and woodsmen; masons and glaziers; tailors and cobblers; riveters and welders.” Neil Oliver worries that such skills, and the value placed on hard work, have become largely forgotten in today’s world. Whether you agree with him or not about a decline in manliness, the true stories that he presents about amazing, heroic “manly men” certainly make for inspiring reading.

Within these pages, you’ll read about famous men such as Captain Robert Scott, the Antarctic explorer; John Paul Jones, the father of the United States Navy; Sir Ernest Shackleton, leader of several polar expeditions. But you’ll also find tributes to men whose names may be less familiar to us but whose heroic deeds resonate. These actions include the siege and battle of the Alamo in Texas; World War II’s D-Day and the fighting that took place on Omaha Beach; and the seventh manned mission of America’s space program, better known as Apollo 13.

One of the stories may surprise you (as it did me). If you’ve read Rudyard Kipling’s short story, “The Man Who Would Be King,” (or seen the movie with the same title), the main character is most likely based on a real-life adventurer named Josiah Harlan. Raised as a Quaker in 19th century America, Josiah would leave his homeland in his early twenties, traveling the world in pursuit of a lofty goal — to become a king. Read this tale to learn if he was successful.

Even if Neil Oliver’s lament about the current state of masculinity doesn’t jibe with your view of the male gender, his stories can’t help but stir reminders of brave men and past heroics. Boys may be boys, but men will be men under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at