7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness is a 2013 book by Eric Metaxas. Here, Metaxas presents mini-biographies of George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles Colson.
Metaxas states in his introduction that he wants to answer the questions of what a man is and what makes a man great. The titular secret is that these men lived by faith, that they were surrendered to a higher purpose. Beyond the introduction, though, Metaxas never really bothers to tie things together, and as such, 7 Men is too underdeveloped in this area to serve as a thematic study.
Metaxas’s biographies are, by necessity, oversimplified snapshots (each is about twenty-five pages). As such, Metaxas gets to pick and choose what he includes, and he does a fair amount of handholding to make the points he wants to make to the reader, who may well feel written down to at times.
Metaxas’s accounts are heavy with editorial – and not without inconsistency. Jackie Robinson, for example, is lauded for turning the other cheek and blessing those who cursed (John Paul II is also praised here for his peacemongering ways); his chapter immediately follows the one on Bonhoeffer, who Metaxas praises for many things, one of which, specifically, is his attempts to murder Hitler (in fairness, this aspect of Bonhoeffer is an issue that many people either struggle with or punt entirely). Regardless of one’s position on Bonhoeffer’s actions, though, given Metaxas’s theme, it’s a jarring incongruity unaddressed.
Historical buffs will be dismayed to note that Metaxas primarily uses secondary sources and, in several cases, Wikipedia (the Washington-was-a-deist crowd will really have a field day). In the end, 7 Men may have the most merit as an introduction to these men, and in that respect, it is worthwhile, but from whatever angle you come at it, 7 Men virtually demands further reading from other sources.
In short, while these seven lives are extremely impressive, Metaxas’s accounts are somewhat less so.
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