Update: Nov. 18. I would give the book 5 stars. An important book.
“True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities” – published September 26, 2017
My copy of “True Gentlemen” by John Hechinger of Bloomberg came via Kindle after midnight. It is told in a first-person, easy-to-read style. I scanned this morning, but must get ready for five classes, a faculty meeting and NPR radio interview re the Wheaton College debacle. THUS, THIS IS NOT A FULL REVIEW, merely first impressions after two hours of scanning front to back.
He cites numerous studies, but the book’s power comes from Hechinger’s accounts of interviews with Sigma Alpha Epsilon members, particularly from his observations at conclaves. That reporting gets an “A” on first reading. The quality of writing gets a “B-” in my opinion. When Hechinger starts citing research, he’ll leave readers with glazed eyes. On the other hand, the actual first-person reportage makes for riveting reading.
He keeps citing his and David Glovin’s December 30, 2013 Bloomberg database on all-causes SAE-related and SAE deaths.
Never once does Hechinger’s book mention where he and Glovin got their first notion that a long-existing hazing-only death list already existed.
However, putting together a number of non-hazing deaths of students leaving parties, etc. was then and now extremely useful. A+ in fact.
The book’s index itself is a D- or F. Sketchy, sketchy, sketchy. But there is a “Look Inside the Book” on Amazon as of today that is valuable for reviewers and readers.
He calls “misleading” attempts by Greek leaders to say that hazing happens in all collegiate groups. That gave me pause, and I have to say his argument makes sense when the number of fraternity deaths gets compared with number of deaths for athletes, band members, et al.
I now will read in my “spare” time at a leisurely pace. It would be unfair of me to grade the author and his OVERALL book at this point. Hechinger notes that it was researched and written in just two years–another draft would have improved the writing. Because “True Gentleman” was compiled so fast, the book’s writing has a “cobbled together” or “thrown-together-stew” effect on me. It does not read like my scholarly “Wrongs of Passage,” but the book’s easy-to-read style will get the volume into the hands of many more undergraduates than a scholarly book will ever do.
Hechinger’s title is misleading for the same criticism he makes of fraternity leaders. It is definitely more of a damning account of Sigma Alpha Epsilon than it is of “America’s Fraternities” in totum.
Personally, I wish John had credited my book “Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing” for his use in the book’s title and a chapter head. Although Hechinger never interviewed me for the actual book, his colleague David Glovin interviewed me numerous times regarding my list of hazing deaths.
Then and now, I thought their characterization of Sigma Alpha Epsilon as America’s “deadliest fraternity” badly needed verification by a statistics expert to go past the catchy, sensational blurb quoted so often after their “Broken Pledges” series appeared in Bloomberg News. Yes, SAE has had the most deaths in a confined time period, and yes it is a troubled national, but that “deadliest” tag needed to take into account OTHER big fraternities and crunch such “bothersome” facts as number of members, number of chapters, number of SAE and other fraternity close calls narrowly avoiding death.
Unfortunately, through no fault of the author, his book ends in 2016, missing the traumatic deaths of 2017.
The book’s strength is also its weakness. Hechinger pops up in whirling fashion here and there throughout the book, but his own biographical background is too sketchy for me. I want more Hechinger, not less, since he pops up so often in many chapters.
Again, this is JUST a first impression, not an actual review, and I urge readers to send “True Gentleman” mini-reviews or even comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Therefore, I am not giving the whole book a grade. That will come after at least two readings in the next month.
I’ll quote the most useful that come to me.
I hope this is helpful. I hope you read the book. I’ll bet parents of high school seniors will ask their son to think twice about joining SAE or any other fraternity.” Hechinger’s recommendations for reforms I did get a chance to read more closely. Although more a stew of existing opinions from expert and lawyer Doug Fierberg than any original thinking by Hechinger, it is a useful compilation of suggestions for change. No doubt about Hechinger’s assertions that SAE undergrads have done some horrific things. All those things, even upon just a scanning, paint a damning portrait of what Hechinger should have titled his book–“Untrue Gentlemen.”
I look forward to reading twice before reviewing at my leisure, and I’ll correct any wrong impressions I may have gleaned upon scanning just now.
I’ll give “Untrue Gentlemen” four Amazon stars for now and will decide after two readings if it should be five stars.