Men to Boys

The Making of Modern Immaturity

Gary Cross

Columbia University Press

Men to Boys

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Pub Date: September 2008

ISBN: 9780231144315

328 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $32.00£24.00

Pub Date: September 2008

ISBN: 9780231144308

328 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $95.00£70.00

Pub Date: September 2008

ISBN: 9780231513111

328 Pages

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List Price: $31.99£24.00

Men to Boys

The Making of Modern Immaturity

Gary Cross

Columbia University Press

Adam Sandler movies, HBO's Entourage, and such magazines as Maxim and FHM all trade in and appeal to one character—the modern boy-man. Addicted to video games, comic books, extreme sports, and dressing down, the boy-man would rather devote an afternoon to Grand Theft Auto than plan his next career move. He would rather prolong the hedonistic pleasures of youth than embrace the self-sacrificing demands of adulthood.

When did maturity become the ultimate taboo? Men have gone from idolizing Cary Grant to aping Hugh Grant, shunning marriage and responsibility well into their twenties and thirties. Gary Cross, renowned cultural historian, identifies the boy-man and his habits, examining the attitudes and practices of three generations to make sense of this gradual but profound shift in American masculinity. Cross matches the rise of the American boy-man to trends in twentieth-century advertising, popular culture, and consumerism, and he locates the roots of our present crisis in the vague call for a new model of leadership that, ultimately, failed to offer a better concept of maturity.

Cross does not blame the young or glorify the past. He finds that men of the "Greatest Generation" might have embraced their role as providers but were confused by the contradictions and expectations of modern fatherhood. Their uncertainty gave birth to the Beats and men who indulged in childhood hobbies and boyish sports. Rather than fashion a new manhood, baby-boomers held onto their youth and, when that was gone, embraced Viagra. Without mature role models to emulate or rebel against, Generation X turned to cynicism and sensual intensity, and the media fed on this longing, transforming a life stage into a highly desirable lifestyle. Arguing that contemporary American culture undermines both conservative ideals of male maturity and the liberal values of community and responsibility, Cross concludes with a proposal for a modern marriage of personal desire and ethical adulthood.

[A] perceptive, eloquent book.

Publishers Weekly

With a novelist's eye for the absurdity of contemporary culture, Gary Cross brilliantly traces how postwar American culture turned a profit from encouraging grown men to remain perpetual boys. Not afraid to put his own life into the story, Cross traces an accelerating rebellion by men against growing up and growing old since the 1940s. He clearly lays out an argument about how contemporary men have become Peter Pans and Adam Sandler characters as they have lost their role as the main family provider.

Elizabeth Pleck, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Gary Cross is one of the most original scholars in the field of American cultural history, and Men to Boys is the most complete survey of images of adult masculinity on television and in the films, magazines, and popular literature of the twentieth century. It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive cultural treatment of the subject. A blend of solid historical research, personal history, and challenging argument, this book addresses a contemporary issue with flair. Essentially about the fragility of male adulthood and how 'becoming a man' has been fraught with difficulties in every generation, Men to Boys provides a convincing narrative of how recent generations changed in a dialectical manner, producing the 'boy-man' of today.

Howard P. Chudacoff, Brown University, and author of Children at Play: An American History

A master historian explores a sea change that has taken place in the conception of manhood over the past three-quarters of a century. Men to Boys is a serious work of scholarship combining a wealth of historical knowledge with compelling cultural critique. Gary Cross's book contains the best, most succinct summaries that I have read of the history of video games, thrill rides at amusement parks, and representations of masculinity in film and advertising. His discussion of the psychological effects of video game violence is a tour de force, moving well beyond the simplistic and sterile debate about whether such games provoke aggressive and cruel behavior. Original and thought provoking, Men to Boys is a model of 'contemporary' cultural history.

Steven Mintz, Columbia University, and author of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Gary Cross slides through twentieth-century culture in loping, eloquent paragraphs. He gives us informed wryness—as when he observes that the patron saint of modern manhood has morphed from Cary Grant (mature) to Hugh Grant (not)—and then tells us what it means.

Dan Zak, Washington Post

[A] thoughtful journey through the male-strom of modern masculinity.

Kay Hymowitz, Wall Street Journal

An interesting take on the history and development of boy-men... Highly recommended.

Library Journal

A thought-provoking read for men and women of all walks of life.


Cross contributes important lessons to gender and masculinity studies in this roller coaster ride through an intersection of biography and history... Essential.


[This] copiously researched, subtly argued, and lucidly written account of modern immaturity... serves as a needed hair shirt for the regressive adult.

Christopher Benson, Weekly Standard

An important contribution to our understanding of major shifts in cultural values in the second half of the twentieth century.

Lisa Jacobson, H-Childhood

[E]xtremely readable, informative

The Family in America
Introduction: Where Have All the Men Gone?
1. When Fathers Knew Best (or Did They?)
2. Living Fast, by (Sometimes) Dying Young
3. Talking About My Generation
4. My Generation Becomes the Pepsi Generation
5. New Stories, by New Rebels
6. Endless Thrills
7. Life Beyond Pleasure Island
Web Features:

About the Author

Gary Cross is Distinguished Professor of Modern History at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of a dozen historical books on childhood, consumption, technology, popular culture, and work, notably Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity; The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children's Culture; and An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America.