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Iron John: A Book About Men

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  5,250 ratings  ·  502 reviews
In this deeply learned book, poet and translator Robert Bly offers nothing less than a new vision of what it is to be a man.Bly's vision is based on his ongoing work with men and reflections on his own life. He addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Finding rich meaning in ancient stories an ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 28th 2004 by Da Capo Press (first published 1984)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  5,250 ratings  ·  502 reviews

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Jun 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Having just pushed through the deep lakes of thought Bly makes us dwell in, and having exhausted a lot of energy traveling miles and miles of metaphor I feel short of power to describe this book.

I can say that I am, and few would disagree, the least among you to be found in a drum circle, or even drinking starbuck's. Which is not to say that I am better, only more stubborn about these things. And now further admitting my manhood is not at all comfortable with the idea of needing a "men's moveme
Sep 19, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh, man. We all know how it's said that we can't judge books by their covers, or at least that we shouldn't...but this book can be judged easily with a quick glance at the back cover. Here is the author.

Note the "ethnic" vest over the button-up shirt and velvet ascot. This sums up, metaphorically, my experience of the contents of the book. A little bit hippie, a little bit new-age fetishist, a little bit ladies-man-of-the-1970's...and a little bit straightlaced and conservative underneath it al
A big "poem" on masculinity, every man should read this book. I don't think I can emphasize this enough. And I guess conjoining the word "masculine" and the word "poem" here is "pregnant" with meaning; that is, so much can be induced here. I'm not saying that poetry is exclusively feminine. It's just that being masculine but lacking the ability to "shudder," as Robert Bly puts it, isn't the real thing—it's the masculine shadow, ungrounded, holding the sword, and swinging it sideways, aimlessly. ...more
Feb 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: on-gender, on-manhood
The promising start:

1. 'Modern men' are losing their identity
"...the images of adult manhood given by popular culture are worn out; a man can no longer depend on them". p.1/237

2. 'Feminised men' are unhappy
"[the soft male has] a gentle attitude toward life...but many of these men are not happy...women begand to desire softer isn't working out". p.3/237

3. 'Feminised men' arose from recent historical changes in parenting
"The Industrial Revolution...pulled fathers away from their sons a
Bart Breen
May 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the Best Books I have ever Read ....

Truly one of the best books I have ever read, and I have read many.

Robert Bly is a Poet and the founder of a Man's Movement. In Iron John he brings both elements to bear in a way that will only truly be understood by men.

That's right. I said it. This book requires a man to truly understand it. Women are welcome. I suppose a man can read Cosmo and come away with something too. You may find that sexist. You may find that unfair. Tough. That's the way it i
May 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
A book about perspectives on the "wildness" of men throughout history, with emphasis on the need for a return to the rites of passage laid out metaphorically in the "Iron John" tale as told by the Brothers Grimm, which likely dates back to ancient times. Sounds interesting, right? Except that it turns into a disconnected ramble that assumes anything "ancient" is automatically better than anything contemporary. This is a logical fallacy that makes me more angry every time I come across it. The re ...more
Nov 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Nuggets of wisdom scattered amid the psychobabble.
My boyfriend gave this to me and said "Please read this, I think it will help you understand me." So, with grim determination, and a not all too pleasant mindset, I began to read Iron John. Robert Bly is a respected poet and a "leader of men" or, a man who thinks he knows how to make men better men by teaching them to find the wild man inside of them and showing them when and how to make use of his characteristics. I'm not really a fan of the book. I couldn't finish it. This could be because I'm ...more
Ben De Bono
Dec 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Iron John is commonly regarded as one of the major men's books written over the past few decades. In many ways it functions as a secular Wild at Heart. It's an easy read that covers a lot of deep issues relating to masculinity.

There's a lot to like about this book, as well as a few problems. I'll start with the good stuff. First, I love the mythological approach Bly takes to masculinity. He's considered one of the foremost figures in the Mythopoetic Men's Movement, and for good reason. He not o
Friedrich Haas
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
There was a literal moment when my thinking shifted from hating my father to understanding how his life had broken him. In understanding and forgiving him, I also can do so for myself, and some others. I see how people get broken like bones, and heal with limps, and restrictions, and anger that they can not be who they wanted to be, and they might not realize it within themselves. My father never would have. People never thought that way then. I miss my father now, knowing we could have finally ...more
Kevin Fuller
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Bly is sly. He talks about men without isolating women, without excluding the Divine Feminine from the male experience.
In a day and age where the alpha male has been replaced by the only rational option, the beta male, Bly offers a third way, the nurturing Father.
I really like the way Bly brings in fairy tale, mysticism, some gnosticism, and paganism, and um, even mythicism and also um the kitchen sink to describe the male ego in all of it's complexity.
The most telling, for me, is the chapter on
Jun 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
What misogynistic drivel. "Real men" are dying off. Shut the fuck up.
Hey boys (and yes I mean boys) and little girls who can't do things for yourself: Go live in a cave and draw on walls while your "aggressive and dangerous" man drags you by your hair and throws you on the bed because he doesn't respect you as a human being. After he's done banging on his chest you can watch him try to figure out how fire works.
I'll stay in the 21st century with ACTUAL REAL men who aren't threatened by a chang
Victor Finn
This book is absolutely loaded with psychological insight. Reading this book felt almost surreal at times because of how it brought together so many different things that I have read into a cohesive whole. Robert Bly discusses the importance of male initiation rituals on a male's psychological in theself-development in ancient societies. I had first become aware of the existence of these male initiation rituals through reading Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology. When I first read that book I ...more
Jun 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
A cross between Jungian psychology, Poetry, and Fairy Tales, this book neatly intersects many of my primary interests. Written by the poet Robert Bly, it's an odd journey through the archetypal psychic development of men in western culture, focusing on the uses of and need for initiation rites and spiritual life, and a Jungian interpretation of the fairy tale "Iron John". There are some remarkable insights here, though also some pretty specious claims. ...more
May 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is why I love Robert Bly. The modern man is lost, disheveled, and more broken everyday because there is no guidance to lead him into maturity, and through self-discovery. Utilizing the myth of Iron John, Robert Bly offers some answer to the wounds we receive in life, and how those too are means for us to grow well.
Morgan Blackledge
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing






Loved it :-)
Jul 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
In Iron John, Robert Bly presented a moderately interesting idea in a very unsatisfying way. The book uses a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm to outline the parts of what Bly believes make a whole and wholesome man. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another about the seven aspects of manhood he presents—I can’t confirm or deny them without growing old and looking back at my life to see if I ever developed that way. What really bugged me about this book is that it felt poorly organized, ...more
Jun 04, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my ongoing attempt at self-improvement -- or self-understanding, or whatever -- I finally picked up "Iron John," Robert Bly's 1990 bestseller that gave rise to a thousand drum-beating retreats.

I've been a male for all of my 51 years, but I'm not sure I've ever been a man, or what "being a man" means. I'm hopeless with tools and my last experience with playing football was in junior high school. I'm not a huge fan of action films or explosions. I used to not cry -- "boys don't cry," right? --
Sep 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I really don't like to give a book only three stars, especially when it's obvious the author worked so hard researching and writing. But, this book really only deserves three stars, in my opinion.

Robert Bly really did his homework when he researced the myth of Iron John. He has an historical illustration for almost every word of the story. It's very impressive.

But, for some reason I can't explain, Bly's writing is difficult for me to understand. I read most of his paragraphs over and over again
Ryan Rodriquez
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Men and masculinity have been under attack as of late. There are shouts of "toxic masculinity" and how males are a "problem" in society today. None of that is true. Whatever is masculine cannot be toxic and whatever is toxic cannot be masculine. "Toxic masculinity" is an oxymoronic statement.

Robert Bly suggests that there are two choices in which a man can behave; there is "Savage" and there is "Wild". Bly uses an ancient fable of "Iron John" to illustrate and differentiate between the two.

I gai
Sandy Maguire
Mar 28, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Too mystical, too much reliance on shaky metaphors and mythological reinterpretations of bullshit. Also, one gets the impression that Bly is absolutely in love with himself; he'll present poems written by himself as evidence for his point, which would be sketchy under the best circumstances, but when combined with terrible poetry, it becomes unforgivable. Save yourself some time and skip over this one. ...more
Apr 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Done in Robert's own special style. I could hear his voice as I read the book. An excellent book recommended for all guys and women if they want a glimpse into men's inner workings. ...more
Lauren Tom
Feb 01, 2021 rated it liked it
Marketed towards the average “man”, but I thought it funny that the book is pretty Jungian, plus very poetic, which deviates from the blueprint of a lot of other self-help books. Bly uses the story of Iron John, first recorded by the Brothers Grimm, to structure his analysis and elaboration of the myth underlying the ‘male journey’. Actually not as controversial or unreasonable as perhaps it may appear - this is coming from a woman. Bly is not looking to antagonize feminist thought; he’s just sa ...more
Dustin Rose
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Bly uses a lot of myths and stories as metaphors on how to reconnect with the "Wild Man" that we may or may not have allowed to be buried in our psyche. It talks a lot about understanding yourself, and your story, and being brave enough to dive deep into our own pasts and memories in an effort to re-connect with our own masculinity. Identifying wounds and understanding where they came from.

Because it's so based off of stories and myths, the lessons that can be learned are applicable in a lot of
Steven Rider
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: parenting
Iron John is the first book I've read that's specifically aimed at for fathers of boys. This was recommended to me by Elliot Hulse and I enjoyed the majority of it. Occasionally poems and some of the analogies became a little confusing or too artsy, but overall the messages were powerful tools for the dedicated father looking to guide their sons to be the strongest version of themselves.

The biggest takeaway for me was the missing "initiation" of men in our society. Most indigenous cultures had t
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Nature made men's DNA at least 3% different from women and in that small difference there is a lot. This book retells a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm and looks at the evolution of a man. Robert Bly writes poetically and references a ton of literature jumping from greek mythology to native american and african traditions and to writes of the modern era. All this weaves together a compelling case for why men have, over the last 50 years especially, become nice guys and in the process lost the w ...more
Nathaniel Nathaniel
May 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
I haven't learn anything about male initiation other than what I already knew. And what I knew, was a bit different and far more useful than what Robert Bly explains. It seems that he tries to put pieces of male initiation together, but in reality, he doesn't know what he's talking about.

I agree with one thing - a boy, if he wants to become a man, need the elders to do so. It seems that Robert Bly never had the elders to help him, and thus, he walked blindly through the writing process of this
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
SO MUCH I disagree with, am concerned by, etc., but this book made me think more, take more notes, annotate harder, reach for other sources, consider my life more than any book I've read in I don't know how long. Dangerous, perhaps, but fascinating, and enlightening if read carefully, I think. ...more
Nestor Leal
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Jungian analysis of manhood in Brothers Grimm's Iron John fairy tale. A bit elaborate but still interesting. ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One can be cynical about Iron John, indeed. Yes, it’s a bit like Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan accounts. But wasn’t that a cool dude? Yes, its fuzzy. But who expects a poet to write like a scientist? Yes, Bly wrote Iron John after his 24-year marriage to award winning essayist Carol Bly ended 1979 in divorce. But isn’t this book a constructive way to digest those years and man’s identity in general? If a piece of literature, which is written in a novel style like Iron John, stays for 62 weeks on t ...more
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Iron John by Robert Bly 1 41 Apr 12, 2008 07:39PM  

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Robert Bly is an American poet, author, activist and leader of the Mythopoetic Men's Movement.
Robert Bly was born in western Minnesota in 1926 to parents of Norwegian stock. He enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and spent two years there. After one year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he transferred to Harvard and thereby joined the famous group of writers who were undergraduates at that time, which i

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“What does it mean when a man falls in love with a radiant face across the room? It may mean that he has some soul work to do. His soul is the issue. Instead of pursuing the woman and trying to get her alone, away from her husband, he needs to go alone himself, perhaps to a mountain cabin, for three months, write poetry, canoe down a river, and dream. That would save some women a lot of trouble.” 32 likes
“The inner boy in a messed-up family may keep on being shamed, invaded, disappointed, and paralyzed for years and years. "I am a victim," he says, over and over; and he is. But that very identification with victimhood keeps the soul house open and available for still more invasions. Most American men today do not have enough awakened or living warriors inside to defend their soul houses. And most people, men or women, do not know what genuine outward or inward warriors would look like, or feel like.” 21 likes
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