Epstein, an academic, reflects on the value of male friendships in a work that blends memoir with social commentary. The book begins with the author’s lament that “so much is written about male toxicity, predation, destructive aggression,” and “men’s incapacity to forge deep and lasting friendships with other men.” Epstein offers a counternarrative about the “Nice men. Good men. Imperfect men” with whom he has forged “loving and lasting relationships” across his 85 years. Having spent half a century engaged in academia (as a professor of social work at the City University of New York and the University of Michigan), the author, in his erudite writing style, introduces readers to philosophical musings on male bonding from figures including the ancient Roman statesman Cicero and the Italian Jewish novelist and playwright Italo Svevo. The real strength of the book is found in Epstein’s absorbing memoir, which is told through chapter-length vignettes centered around his male friends. The reader learns about the author’s lifelong love of neckties and about his friend Harold, who relished in retelling the story of Epstein’s necktie once falling into his clam chowder. Another chapter focuses on a pair of Black friends from the deep South, one of whom, Bogart, was a doctoral student of the author’s before becoming his dean at CUNY years later. Perhaps most poignantly, the author, a straight man, describes how he overcame his father’s deep-seated homophobia. Far too many men, he argues, lose out on valuable friendships by denying themselves brotherly “intimacy with other men and resist naming it love.” As an author of textbooks and research studies, Epstein emphasizes that this work is an “uncharacteristic, non-academic book” and that those looking for bibliographic citations or scholarly analysis will be disappointed. As a memoir, however, it is a timely reminder that true friendship is an essential component of human happiness. An absorbing remembrance and commentary on the importance of friendship among men
Bruce A. Thyer, PhD
"In literary history, the genre called the essay is a relatively new form. After a lifetime of publishing purely academic prose, I was delighted to read Irwin Epstein's new book Men as Friends: From Cicero to Svevo to Cataldo. Well-laced with humor, psychological insight and sociological awareness, his new book is a collection of individual tales that can be read as stand-alone essays, reflecting his experiences with men over the course of his life—some family, some boyhood pals, some professional, and many a combination of the personal and professional. In part a series of meditations on the joys and sorrows of friendships between men, Men as Friends lives up to its name. At times tender and funny and at times tough and critical, each chapter remains a thoroughly enjoyable read. Cumulatively, they present us with the half-life of a remarkably erudite, discerningly critical, often hilarious and very loving man. While his wife Fran is undoubtedly the love of his life, a sequel volume on Irwin's many female friends would be quite welcome. As a work of literature however, this book is great fun. But I am glad we weren’t buddies in our earlier years!"
Robert F. Carr DSW
”Although Epstein distinguishes loving male relationships from homosexual unions his book presents us with a reverie that is uncommon in its intimacy with men of his generation. This memoir uncovers the roots of his passion from a turbulent, pathological and patriarchal family propelling him into an distinguished intellectual career of research focusing on caring for people of all stripes and without judgment. The book is a compelling cultural & intellectual exploration of a life lived.”
“…a wonderful book, satisfying at every level. All of the principal inhabitants of the book (whether loved or not) were, on the page, absorbing characters. While John LeCarre might not have found his father especially outrageous, I found the portrait of Epstein’s father’s personality and behavior sufficiently disturbing and compelling to motivate reading the chapters to follow. As for the other persons of interest, I noticed early, and appreciated, their variety. (I was reminded of a lesson offered many years ago by a character in a Donald Barthelme short story: When you go to a party, if you make sure to talk to the oldest person there and the youngest person there, you will always have a good time.) The book was even more satisfying as "memoir." Granted, as an academic and an avid fan of novels set in academia, I'm probably an easy audience--and it doesn't hurt either that I self-identify as a "social scientist." (Yes, this is now my sexual orientation.) But what I find impressive about the author’s life as it appears in the book is the great range of experience it encompasses, experience facilitated by the incomplete divide between scholarship and practical social work, between teaching and consulting, and by openness to seemingly every opportunity that came his way, whether prompted by a sabbatical, a divorce, or simply some sort of encounter from out of the blue. Yes, I found the characters written about interesting in themselves, but their principal function IN THE BOOK is to provide a great peg on which to hang the many threads of a very full and successful life. But what I most appreciated about the book was simply the artfulness of its construction--not just at the level of the sentence or paragraph, but the book's overall shape. For me it was a great source of aesthetic pleasure."
Siu-man Ng, PhD.
“Reading Irwin’s new book, immediately brought to mind my father who passed away twenty years ago. Despite the fact that he was restrained in emotional expression, his love and kindness have always been strongly felt, even up till now. An ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (莊子, BC369-286) has a famous saying, “the friendship between gentlemen is as light as water” (君子之情淡如水 jūnzǐ zhī jiāo dàn rú shuǐ). Gentlemen refer to men who are educated and respectable. Generations after generations, these social expectations of the relationship between men have been firmly planted in the egos and superegos of many Chinese, men and women. However, deep inside our ids, our urge for closeness is no different from anyone, anywhere in the world. Born in rural area during the civil war in China in the 1920’s, my father barely had any formal education. Through self-learning, he read and wrote competently, and later after moving to Hong Kong, when he was running a convenience store he did all the accounting himself. My father’s behavior was typical ‘gentleman’ – being always polite and considerate. Perhaps (partially) because of my dad, in that sense I have become a typical ‘gentleman’ too. My conversations with him often seemed overly ‘clinical’ or even ‘surgical’ with barely any personal or emotional content. Outwardly, we appeared to be communicating purely at a conscious, rational level. But on an unconscious level, a steady flow of love and affection was always there between us. The emotional bonding between us was there before I first realized it, and continued to be present even when we are/were physically apart. Do I regret anything about it? Yes, I do. I wish I had expressed my love for my dad more directly. Irwin’s book is truly enlightening! As I was reading it, some my old friends popped up as well. To my disappointment, very few of them would qualify as ‘close friends’. It is not their fault. Our ‘gentleman styles’ probably account for much of the distance. Why can’t “gentlemen” also be more expressive of their feelings toward each other? Why can’t we be truer to our ids or unconscious selves? I wholeheartedly thank Irwin for generously sharing his deep reflections and insightful understanding of his friendships with other men. I highly recommend this book to men of all ages and all cultures. And I highly recommend it to women who are interested in knowing another side of men.”
“A great read. A researcher has written a memoir that reads like a novel. This is a book about deep friendships and how they do and don’t develop. We learn about the author's family and how family dynamics produced a sensitive caring individual, then an academic sociologist and social-work researcher who managed to remain a caring individual. Predictably, most of his friendships are men who are occupationally related and offer insights about how institutional demands and concerns exert an influenced those relationships. When the researcher occasionally and inevitably emerges, research issues are explained succinctly and simply enough for the layperson to understand. But while the book is largely about male friendships in an academic context, it mirrors lives of men and women in offices, stores, factories etc. The majority of individuals described in the book are no longer alive, continue to be missed by the author but have been brought back to vibrant literary if not literal life for those of us who didn’t know them but now wish we had. As a psychologist and a personal friend of the author, I would be eager to see another book that focuses on those us who are still breathing. “Eager” is too weak a word for each of us in that position—including him.”
“A New York Jew sharing an outhouse with a black widow spider at Joshua Tree Monument; a distinguished Professor of Politics wearing a Kleenex box as a hat; Bob’s Beef Buffet and Boysville of Michigan - This is a diverse and compelling tale of Epstein’s experiences with men that he came to love and cherish as friends and fellow travelers. Readers are offered a unique insight into to how the protections afforded by one’s family of origin and cultural heritage are also constraints that can be transcended if we open ourselves to others and let them matter to us. The men who are waiting to be discovered in these pages all matter to Irwin and he let himself matter to them. Even as an Australian man, the age of Epstein’s son, I found each of these older men of various backgrounds and proclivities instantly relatable. I understand why they were and are so loved by him and why they loved him. He showed up – time and again – through thick and thin. He shared the fun and endured the hardships faced by friends as they suffered loss and were gripped by failing health. These men were also there for him as well. Many have now passed and some friendships continue to evolve. Take Jerry, his friend of 70 years – these two men’s knowing of each other is historically deep but there seems to be always something new to discuss along with digital devices to master. What a comfort to know they never will and that these two men, who grew up old school in Brooklyn and the Bronx, talk weekly and with ease express their deep and abiding love for one another. The author’s natural curiosity, honest self-appraisal and attention to detail come together to produce a tender and often humorous rendering of a life well lived - so fortunate for the influence of friends and the blessing of being known and loved.”
Ami Gantt, MSW, PhD.
“This is a book that transcends the personal and the professional while wittily and poignantly evoking the meaning of what is true closeness between male colleagues and friends. It is a joy to read and ponder.”
“Initially, I anticipated a more scholarly qualitative analysis of the book’s key messages towards the end—some guidance for living a ‘good life’ amongst men friends. I was delighted that this was not the case. So many of we Emeritus Professors feel obliged chisel in stone or print their own “commandments” or sermons. This book is so much the better for just telling the story as it is and allowing readers to make our own reflections and derive our own learnings. It was elegant in its simplicity and profoundly impactful in itself without any overlaying pretentiousness or apparently wise self-commentary. The narrative was written in the manner of a master storyteller. Implied rather than imposed wisdom. Joyful but at the same time jolting. As a reader, I found myself going back to read sections over again to try and distil the important implications for my own life. Having enjoyed the first often humor filled read, I was compelled to return to understand and examine the complexities through the lens of my own life experiences more deeply. Thank you good friend. Go well.”
Sarah Jones, psychotherapist, author.
“Epstein's book is so vivid, so exquisite at times, that it feels more like observing Scorsese’s film, ‘My Voyage to Italy’ than reading a memoir. But his voyages go beyond Rome in time and space. Boyhood, family, friendships found and lost - the author's subjectivity takes us along on a deeply personal voyage. To this Australian reader, it is cinematographic in its colorful detail.”
“… a thoughtfully rendered gallery of portraits of men that Epstein loved and a few he couldn’t. The writing is crisp and witty but with the serious intention of getting at what turns friendship among men into love. A slow but I think discriminating reader, I don't get past page 10 in 50% of the books I start and quit another 25% somewhere in the middle. I actually finished this book! …easy and satisfying read, no superfluous verbiage anywhere.”
Carol Segal—dancer, personal trainer, writer.
“I read this book during those quiet and uninterrupted blocks of time that are few and far-between in my life. I took longer, so I could focus. It’s good. Really good. The writing is extremely witty, sardonic at times, wickedly intelligent, and with an impressive grasp of the English language in vocabulary and in style. I enjoyed that, but the content is a separate matter. If it were fiction, I would say that the "character development" was topnotch. The writing injects pathos into the hearts of readers through its many and varied stories. The men described however, were/are real, not invented. All but one of them have passed and that saddened me deeply. For him—the author. But how could he have written about them with such raw honesty and candor if they were still alive? The hindsight and reflection are remarkable and insightful. Yet I wonder whether anyone could have or would have written so freely if they were alive to read your revelations about them and about his feelings towards them? Still, for thoughtful readers about friendship and its failures, it’s a blessing that he did. It’s what makes the book so personal, so powerful, and unique. This book needs to get out there in the world.”
Marc Klein— Board President ‘22
“While I can’t compare myself to all the super accomplished amazeball emerita who wrote thoughtful blurbs about this book, I served as President of our co-op board with him and came to love him. Then he quit, to write this effing book. Now, I am a video hostage only to be released if I write a blurb. I love Irwin and I’m sure that if we ever get new windows installed, I will read and love his book.”
Tony Stakis—Gothic Cabinet Craft
“Irwin's book? Where to start? I've known him for over 20 years. We don't hang out or break bread together but I do consider him a dear friend and we share a passion for Tsipouro, a Greek spirit. Though I’m Greek, his knowledge of Greek culture is far beyond mine, but his book is based on male friendships and bonding—something I know a good deal about. The book reminded me to reach out to several classmates and friends I had as a kid in high school-- people I haven't spoken to in years. Some were happy to hear from me. Some were cautious, but still pleasant. They need to read this book. All of us need books like this.”
Donna Malwitz, Middle-School Nurse
"Most commonly my “beach read” is a book that is an “easy read” and “soon forgotten”. This is not that. It reminded me of a memoir I read over 30 years ago “Tuesdays with Morrie” (Mitch Albom). My son’s high school football coach required his team to read it. He was a good coach, building men as well as football players. While reading memoirs I often question: “why did he/she write it”? You clarified this in the prologue. It made me think, a goal of most memoir authors I would hope. As a woman, I and my friends speak openly of the type of platonic love you describe with your men friends. Good and perhaps brave of you to share for those who don’t. Your “life goal” statement of Veritas: “To love and be loved”, appears to have been accomplished. You have known love and made known that you were loved in return. You have described the love of friends who are colleagues, those who were not. Those who have walked along through all your practice based research, clinical data, etc. However, the important finding; not “peer reviewed”, is that you loved them and it appears they loved you. Indeed, my friend you have done well."
"Irwin Epstein had a long career and built an international reputation as an academic researcher who wrote books and articles on professionalization and applied social work research in health and mental health among other subjects. Whatever the topic, he also always wrote with wit, fluidity, and great insight. In this memoir about the friends he loved and those that he was unable to, all his writing skill and psychological perceptiveness become central. Friendship like love is not always easy to understand, but Epstein writes with the kind of attention to complexity and empathy that makes this memoir unique."
Louis Siegelman, D.D.S.
"So well composed, and written. I have always appreciated my guy friends, but haven’t spent time reading and thinking about the relationship aspect of those friendships. Now I will. Congratulations on a timely work of art."
Nancy B. Austin, Psy.D.
"Irwin’s lifetime adventures with male friends are happily peppered with irony and often result in outright laughter. “Men Friends” was a pleasure for this woman to read."
Professor Ku, Hok Bun, PhD
“In our lives, we encounter many different people. Some create trauma for us, but some bring us love, joy, and wisdom. Irwin is my friend with a big difference in age. I met him in one of our DSW dissertation oral exams. At that time, I began to fall in love with both his personality and academic accomplishment. I always believe what we have done in academics actually reflects our mind, heart, and body. When we planned to organize an online international conference on practice research in 2021, I strongly recommended inviting him to be a keynote speaker. He accepted and gave a presentation on the topic of virtual friendship in practice research, which let me get to know him better and love him even more. Soon after the conference, he wrote to me and said he thought we could be friends. It is an amazing journey of becoming friends but never meeting. We write to each other. We share our academic work, our religion, our life with students, our happiness and suffering, our anxiety and frustration, and our inner stories, which are seldom talked about with others. He mentioned to me that he was writing his life story. I am overjoyed to see that the book is coming out. I told him that it can become a scholarly reading for my students when I teach narrative construction in qualitative research methods. Everyone has a story. Every story has its mark on historical times. Therefore, each story is both personal and public. I often tell my students that a social worker is no different from the clients; he is a person in society and history, shaped and oppressed by the values and consciousness of society. If social workers themselves cannot see the causes of these oppressions and injuries and break free from the shackles of mainstream ideology and culture, how can we have the strength to help others? How can we extradite others out of the darkness? How can we heal other people's wounds? Irwin and I have never met each other face-to-face. We are virtual and “visual” friends. But I believe one day we will meet each other somewhere in the world. At that time, I'll greet him by saying "Hi Irwin" like an old friend. May God bless Irwin's new book!"
“Memoirs are a sojourn into the past for idiosyncratic reasons. Undergirding this tricky passage are attempts to gain in-depth perspective and to reach fulfilling closure. Irwin Epstein’s memoir not only arrives at both places but in this beautifully and lively written work adds to the particular genre by focusing almost exclusively on male time. His desire is to answer the puzzling question as to why and how he established loving, nonsexual, bonded relationships with certain men and not others. And so the overall effect is the unraveling of an autobiographical mystery, and ultimately the mastery of this extraordinary life.”
“The past sixty years have seen radical changes in the roles and expectations of men in our society. In this engaging book which reads like a letter to a friend, sociologist and social-work researcher Irwin Epstein explores what it’s been like for him to be a man in the twentieth and twenty-first century through his loving and not-so-loving recollections of male friends and the way each of them has affected his life. Flawed though they all are, you can’t help wishing you’d known each of them. This is an honest yet witty reflection by an admittedly imperfect, hopefully non-misogynist and by chance alone heterosexual man on what it’s been like to be a man, an academic and a single father in the tumultuous environment of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Not just for men alone, it indirectly encourages women to re-think the meaning of gender, friendship and of the way they live in their lives as well.”
“A wonderful memoir. Irwin Epstein chose to write about his male friends and colleagues, but in exploring and revisiting those relationships in depth his own life story emerges. His intelligence, impressive academic credentials and his decades of teaching around the world, writing and publishing give him a unique ability to see qualities in his subjects that others might miss. His extraordinary memory provides details from decades ago that give his subjects substance…they are real, more than words on a page. Ultimately, what emerges is his interests, his character and sense of humor, his delight in food and neckties and his consistent commitment to these friends that he cared about and loved.”
“A raconteur of true grace and intelligence, Irwin Epstein shares his deep understanding of the human condition to bring new richness to the meaning of love and friendship. A delightful read for any man or woman.”
“Wonderfully candid, intriguing and beautiful. The writing is superb, wit and insight impressive.”
“In this touching and honest memoir, Irwin Epstein seeks to portray the role of love in his life. He does this through the optic of the intimate friendships he has had with men during the course of that long life, and of which he is not afraid to use the word love. Asked his purpose in life, he tells his friend it is ‘to love and be loved.’ His interlocutor purpose, on the other hand, is ‘to know everything there is to know’. Necessarily, this book does not show ‘all there is to know’ about Irwin but it illuminates a profound truth about him which goes beyond the material here and which touches his entire life, that he loves and is loved.
Dana Holman, DSW
“Witty, erudite, thoughtful.”
“Sad, funny, witty, thought-provoking.”
“A meaningful and poignant collection of stories about male friendship, told with wit and perspicacity. It helps one reach back into one’s own past re-evaluating relationships and events of deep significance.”
“Love knows no borders, neither does the author’s poetic sociological imagination. We all need essential others. No doubt friendship has changed. So have Aristotle’s notions of ‘Virtue Friendship’ in his reflective ‘comparative case study” of modern male friendships. These meditations on meaning-making of an essential, structural axis of his life are well worth your consideration. Read this book and be inspired."
Paul Neitman, MSW, Children’s Services Consultant
“Having worked professionally with him for years as a researcher, this book cements his legacy as a storyteller, but takes it to a whole new level. I laughed, I cried, I spent some moments thinking about some of the significant relationships in my life. It’s a warm, caring, thought provoking look back at important relationships in one’s life and why we seem drawn to some and not others. A book that offers important lessons about significant relationships no matter what one’s gender or sexual orientation.”
Michael J. Austin
“A page-turner crafted by a skillful story-teller...a welcome invitation to peek under the tent in academia to view a lifetime of reflections on very revealing male friendships. Peppered with humor and the mind of a foodie, Epstein shares the exhilarating "highs" experienced by faculty colleagues, lifetime friends, and family members... and the regret-filled "lows" of two divorces and missed opportunities to say goodbye in the midst of deeply held friendships.”