Book Review: The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

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In “The Descent of Man,” artist Grayson Perry explores how we can create a better world by rethinking traditional ideas about masculinity. He humorously and thoughtfully questions what kind of man could positively impact our society and suggests embracing a new ideal of manhood.

With the rise of bullying, intolerance, and misogyny in recent events like the Trump versus Clinton presidential campaign, Perry’s book is a timely and crucial contribution to discussions on gender.

You may still be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you everything about this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Key Insights

Lesson 1: Toxic Masculinity is a Global Problem

Grayson Perry highlights that outdated versions of masculinity contribute to global problems such as crime, war, and economic distortions, which adversely affect women. Perry’s insight shows that toxic masculinity is not just a localized problem, but a global one.

This means that efforts to address it should be far-reaching and comprehensive, incorporating different cultures and societies. For men to be better allies to women and address toxic masculinity, they must first understand the extent and impact of the problem.

Lesson 2: Clothes and Masculinity

Perry uses a creative approach to examine the ways that male fashion reinforces traditional masculine tropes. He highlights that ties are a symbol of male power and status, likening them to “colourful textile phalluses.”

Moreover, he suggests that male fashion incorporates as much “frippery” as female fashion, but men tend to conceal it with functional items such as zips and buckles. This insight highlights the way that traditional masculine culture has an impact on men’s self-image and expression. Men need to be aware of how their clothing choices can reinforce or challenge traditional gender roles.

Lesson 3: The Need to Rethink Masculinity

Perry argues that the traditional masculine culture that emphasizes aggression, competition, and dominance is not appropriate for modern society. Instead, he suggests that men need to be more emotionally intelligent and flexible to succeed in the modern world.

This shift requires rethinking the definition of masculinity and recognizing the value of emotional vulnerability and uncertainty. Men need to learn to be comfortable with these traits and reject the idea that they are signs of weakness.

By embracing emotional intelligence and flexibility, men can improve their relationships with others and contribute to creating a more equitable society.

Lesson 4: The Importance of Self-Reflection

Perry suggests that men need to engage in self-examination and smart thinking to revise their understanding of masculinity. While Perry acknowledges that social factors play a crucial role in shaping masculinity, he also emphasizes the importance of individual responsibility.

Men need to be willing to examine their own attitudes and behaviors and make conscious choices to reject toxic masculinity. This process requires humility and a willingness to admit when one is wrong, traits that are traditionally seen as antithetical to masculinity.

However, by cultivating these traits, men can become more empathetic, compassionate, and respectful of others.

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1. Articulate and easy to comprehend presentation

As an artist, Perry writes with clarity and coherence, making the book easy to understand.

He illustrates his points with anecdotes from his own life and observations from society, making it engaging and relatable. The book is also beautifully illustrated, making it a joy to hold and read.

2. Honest and empathetic approach

Perry is fully open about his own development as a man and uses his personal experiences to illustrate the crises that are often hidden in the unconscious male temperament.

He empathizes with the pain and frustration that men feel and offers a path towards empathy and community with clear direction for the future.

He acknowledges the difficulties men face in a changing world, where traditional roles are deteriorating, and there is no clear path towards a new identity.

3. Thought-provoking insights

Perry challenges traditional masculine traits and advocates for rethinking the definition of masculinity in the current world.

He discusses the problems attributed to male hegemony and the challenges of being a male activist calling attention to the costs of masculinity while supporting the aspirations of women and the feminist movement.

He also talks about the power of uniforms to shape our identity and the delusion that men are not concerned with fashion.


1. Uneven structure

While the book is well-observed and humorous, its structure is uneven. The later chapters, particularly the section on men and violence, feel unfocused and hastily put together.

Perry mixes in a slew of stats on crime rates and snippets that feel like they’ve been culled randomly from broadsheet comment pieces. As a result, the book lacks coherence in some parts.

2. Simplistic analysis

Perry’s analysis of masculinity at the individual level feels simplistic. He suggests that if men could get in touch with their caring, intuitive side, they’d be happier and more fulfilled, and women would like them better too.

However, this takes no account of the men who gain from the exercise of power, such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Perry’s analysis fails to consider the larger economic and political forces that perpetuate gender differences for commercial gain.

3. Limited reach

While the book might be a useful introduction for some, it’s doubtful that it will reach the people who most need it. Perry’s approach to masculinity might not resonate with those who are resistant to change or who hold traditional views of gender roles.

The book’s focus on individual change ignores the larger societal and systemic issues that contribute to the masculinity crisis.


The Descent of Man is an entertaining and thought-provoking exploration of toxic masculinity. Perry challenges traditional masculine traits and advocates for rethinking the definition of masculinity in the current world. While some of his conclusions can be confusing or repetitive, his engaging writing style and memorable observations make it an enjoyable read.

About The Author

Grayson Perry, a renowned artist from Britain, started his art journey by creating a big papier-mâché head, which he awarded to himself during a college performance art project in 1980. Throughout his career, he has received numerous awards, including the Turner Prize in 2003.

Perry is considered one of the most celebrated artists in Britain and has showcased his works in major solo exhibitions worldwide. In 2013, his BBC Reith Lectures became the most popular lectures in the series’ history.

His Channel 4 documentary on creating six new tapestries called “The Vanity of Small Differences, All in the Best Possible Taste” earned him a BAFTA award and the Best Presenter award at the Grierson British Documentary Awards.

Buy The Book: The Descent of Man

If you want to buy the book The Descent of Man, you can get it from the following links:

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