Summary and book reviews of The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

The Hearts of Men

A Novel

by Nickolas Butler

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2017, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 26, 2017, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Gary Presley

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About this Book

Book Summary

Finalist for the 2016 Prix Médicis Etrangere

An epic novel of intertwining friendships and families set in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at a beloved Boy Scout summer camp—from the bestselling author of Shotgun Lovesongs

Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.

Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father's business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan's teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson's selflessness and bravery.

The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality—and redemption.

3

That night, Nelson lies in bed reading his Handbook for Boys by the light of his lantern. A moth bangs against the lantern's glass globe. Nelson rests the book down against his pale chest. Outside his tent are the sounds of laughter and of campfire sizzling and popping, of zippers yapping and outhouse doors clapping shut, the sounds slowly diminishing until the silence is punctuated only rarely by a cough, perhaps, or the long, low, wet note from a recently purchased dime-store whoopee cushion. The moth bounces again and again and again off the globe until reaching out a hand, and careful not to harm the creature, Nelson captures it in his fi He feels the tiny thing, the hair of its legs, the tickle of desperation in its wings, the curiosity of its antennae. Opening his fingers he examines the moth resting in the palm of his hand.

For all his knowledge of knots, the constellations, poisonous mushrooms, rocks, minerals, and the trout streams of northern Wisconsin, Nelson knows...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What does the title The Hearts of Men mean to you after reading?
  2. The novel spans over fifty years, yet as a reader we are only privy to certain sections of time, often with decades between them. Why do you think the author chose to narrate the story this way? How does it emphasize the generational effects of one man or one family's behavior?
  3. There is a pivotal moment in Nelson's camp experience where he chooses to alert Scoutmaster Wilbur to what he feels is untoward behavior, choosing to follow his sense of morality and duty over his desire to befriend the other boys. What would you have done in this situation? Would it be a hard decision?
  4. Nelson and Jonathan's relationship shifts significantly over the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This is a nuanced exploration into the hearts of men. And the north country of Wisconsin, pristine and wild, even though it’s sparsely described, allows for a sense of colorful realism to radiate from the page. Dialogue flows realistically, and the internal conflict accurately reflects what we bring upon ourselves through our innate characteristics or through our choices. Thematically centered on the masculine, The Hearts of Men will appeal across genders.   (Reviewed by Gary Presley).

Full Review (663 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Butler's mostly unembellished prose delivers a well-paced, affecting read.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. “Butler demonstrates enormous command over the material and sympathy for his flawed characters. This beautiful novel might be his best yet.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Fans of Butler’s award-winning Shotgun Lovesongs will welcome this impressive work with an outstanding ensemble cast. Top of the class for Butler on this one.

Author Blurb J. Ryan Stradal, author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Like a great campfire story, The Hearts of Men is epic and hushed in the right places, simultaneously local and universal, and brilliantly, beautifully unspooled. It's both a love letter to good men of the past and a hopeful cheer for the good men to come.

Author Blurb David Abrams, author of Fobbit
How Nickolas Butler spans the gaps across several generations of sons and fathers (and mothers) is nothing short of a marvel of storytelling…The Hearts of Men is full of pain, joy, longing, redemption, disappointment, and beauty--in short, all the qualities that distinguish the very best novels on our shelves.

Author Blurb Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
The Hearts of Men is a winning second novel, by turns wistful and wise, sad and funny, eminently readable, and always atmospheric. Without a doubt, Nickolas Butler is a young writer to watch.

Author Blurb Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and Sweet Water
A wry, tender-hearted novel about men: their families and friendships, their vulnerabilities and foibles, their secrets and lies. Part coming-of-age narrative, part meditation on masculinity, part war story, this novel had me spellbound all the way to its riveting conclusion.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Boy Scouts of America

Boy Scouts of America logoThe Boy Scouts of America (BSA) plays a significant role in The Hearts of Men. Coincidentally, the youth organization is in the news as it adapts to current social mores.

The New York Times reported on January 31, 2017: "Reversing its stance of more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America said on Monday that the group would begin accepting members based on the gender listed on their application, paving the way for transgender boys to join the organization."

Lord Baden-PowellSocial structures have evolved since the British Lieutenant-General, Robert Baden-Powell, founded the Scouts in England in 1910. Baden-Powell was a military hero, known for his 1899 successful defense of Mafeking during the Boer War. According to BSA's history of cub scouting, ...

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