Book review – Reconnaissance Man

Aaron Clarey is pissed off. At 36 he feels that he has wasted the last twenty years of his life pursuing a banking career that he was never suited for. Worse than that he lives in Minnesota. To top it all off he chose to live there, a decision that he has regretted ever since. If he could do it all over again, restart his life at 16 all fresh and new and full of hope and expectation, how exactly would he go about it?

Reconnaissance Man is Clarey’s passing of accumulated wisdom to the next generations of young men. It is the bible for men who do not want to be sheep. Who have an inkling that perhaps their teachers and role models are full of shit, and that what they are being told will not turn out to be conducive to a rewarding life.

The problem is where to start. I have first hand knowledge of this as I was once a young man who had enough sense to understand that going to college as a convenient stop-gap was a poor idea. Poor idea or not, the alternative to make my own way in the world was quietly terrifying. The sort of terror that seeps into your soul, drop by drop as the months accumulate into years and you feel like you aren’t making any progress. What ultimately catapulted me onto a life of change and adventure was exactly what Clarey is advocating in this book:

Get on the road.

I got on the road through luck and happenstance and where I chose to live and what I ended up doing relied on similar circumstances. That’s one way to do it. Another way would be to pick up Clarey’s book which attempts to set out in logical detail the best way to go about this. Fundamental to his hypothesis is the premise that going to college straight out of school is a very poor decision for the vast majority of young people today. Clarey lists and explains the various reasons in support of this while using examples from his own life and that of some of his former clients as examples.

Quite simply, being a reconnaissance man is about laying out the foundations of your adult life as early as possible. The later you leave it then the harder this task becomes and the less freedom of choice you end up having. The big three questions that you have to answer are what you want to do, where do you want to live, and who do you want to be, and Clarey does his best to set out road-maps for these three questions.

An area of the book that strongly resonated with me was the section on being ostracized from your friends as a result of you taking the path less traveled. I experienced this as well as the crushing doubt when all of my peers began graduating from college and all I had done was work in bars, work as an actor and musician, while supporting myself out of home the entire time. It turns out that I was in front, way in front, but it did not feel that way at the time. If I had had Clarey’s book in my hands back then it would have made a real difference to my mental outlook as well as finding the strength to continue on the path. That I did anyway is beside the point. I was strong enough to figure it out on my own but not everyone is, and we can all use a helping hand on occasion.

Clarey rightly ridicules the idea of going out and “finding yourself”, a term that as he puts it is better suited to a soccer man who just isn’t happy and leaves her husband and kids to attempt to copy some ‘eat pray love’ world adventure on her ex-husband’s dime. To answer the question of who you are he uses the term ‘self discovery’. Unfortunately I have a hard time with this phrase as I find it not too dissimilar to the one that he first disparages. As I have said before, women find themselves but men make themselves and I think that it is an important distinction. Finding yourself involves a lot of mental wankery that I have seen many men fall into the trap of believing. Making yourself equates to doing the hard fucking work to carve out a piece of the world for yourself, in which you can inhabit as a man.

The trap of believing that you are on a road to self discovery is that you can end up doing a lot of traveling and a lot of living but not much making. I am sure that the distinction is crystal clear to Clarey but I have vast personal experience of men mixing up the two attitudes.

The one drawback to this book is that the section on working out where to live is entirely based on someone who lives in North America. Clarey goes into a detailed breakdown on the advantages and disadvantages of each of the states in the USA until he finally whittles it down to a short list of sixteen possibilities. I actually found it fascinating, both as an insight into where I’d like to go if I ever make it to the USA, (hint – avoid most of Wyoming), but also as a profound appreciation for just how much choice Americans have when it comes to where they want to live. The options truly are almost limitless.

But if you’re a reader who lives in the rest of the world then this section then becomes moot. However, it is an excellent primer for you to do your own examination of what your country has to offer. You can use the same set of standards that Clarey has chosen to select his worthy candidates and appropriate them for where you intend to live your life.

Overall this is an excellent attempt to quantify in a logical manner what should be a crucial first step in every young man’s journey. It is in fact the textbook counterpoint to my first book, Pushing Rubber Downhill. Whereas my book chronicles my own journey of how a clueless young man carves his path in the world in narrative form, Clarey examines the same topic from the perspective of a textbook guide. A ‘how to manual’ if you will. His book is simply indispensable for any man who deeply feels that he doesn’t want to be a sheep but is unsure how to go about that task.

4.5 stars for any North American readers.

4 stars for the rest of the world

9 thoughts on “Book review – Reconnaissance Man

  1. Our oldest boy has chosen a most difficult path. He wants to wear a big watch and fly the really go fast aircraft for the military. He’s got the physical and mental skills to do it, but does he have the grit? Only he can answer that. I think my job at this point is to remind him, what are you going to do, lay there and bleed? Stand back up.

    I know he wants to curse at me once in a while, but he’ll understand it later. Tough love indeed.

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    1. Lay there and bleed indeed. I’m 45 and I work out on heavy weights 3 days a week, train for cricket 2 days, and play a full game on one of the other days. My body is just a constant ache. On the one hand I wish for the 25 year old body but on the other hand I love the pain. It reminds me that I’m still here, still fighting. But I’ll be 55 in ten years and I know how fast they go.

      Young men get to die in wars. They don’t know how lucky they have it.

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      1. Too true. If the older people who usually start the wars had to fight them it would probably be a whole different matter. If nothing else the wars would move a lot slower.

        He played football (American rules) for his college, he’s fast and mean on the field. My wife couldn’t watch the games any longer because his school has an upper echelon team, and the hits are ferocious. He recently dropped football and his girlfriend to focus more on his studies. That girl was steaming mad at him, which he told me really opened his eyes. He said, “she didn’t care about me, she cared about how I made her look.” I almost had a tear when I heard that.

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    2. GFR

      Wanting to fly fast jets is like wanting to chase hot girls – there’s no logic to it, and there’s no point in trying to talk anyone out of it.
      .
      The only useful suggestion I could make is that he have a plan in place for what he is going to do when he is out of the service. The airlines don’t hire F16 pilots.

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      1. @GFR He’s got his back-ups in line. He worked as a heavy equipment operator prior to college, and he’ll have an engineering degree. I think he’s got quite a few options depending on what happens.

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      2. I worked with a bunch of ex-fighter pilots when I was in offshore oil & gas. They were consultants on strategic decision making and situational awareness amongst other things.

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  2. Wombat-socho

    36 years old? F*cking n00b. 😉
    More seriously, having read Clarey’s other books and been a longtime follower of his blog “Captain Capitalism”, I’m looking forward to reading this. I daresay there’s going to be stuff in it still useful at my advanced age of 57.

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    1. Haha, yes, I don’t think Mr Clarey is 36 now. But that was the point at which he realized he might have a problem. I actually tried to rewrite that opening as I was afraid it would be misinterpreted but in the end I just liked its punchiness.

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  3. Pingback: An Aussie Review of "Reconnaissance Man" - Political Bias

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