Do today’s men need to man up? Yes, absolutely, Peter McAllister says in “Manthropology,” viewing contemporary males as faint shadows of their shaggy forebears.

Modern man, Mr. McAllister declares, is “the worst man in history,” though not every reader will be convinced by the evidence presented. Certainly the guys of 2010 are not as physically tough as the men of other times and other places. Mr. McAllister, who is especially entertaining when he writes about male-centric mayhem, scoffs at what passes for grit these days. He dismisses, for instance, modern-day “blood pinning,” in which military insignia are jabbed into soldiers’ chests, as minor-league at best. Sambian boys in New Guinea have traditionally been initiated into manhood with cane splints jammed up their nostrils and vines shoved down their throats. He also roughs up modern soldiers, noting that Army recruits are asked to run only 12 miles in four hours; in China, Wu Dynasty soldiers in the sixth century B.C. were reputed to go on 80-mile runs without a break.

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