Book Review: By Their Works

You would be forgiven if this book's subtitle - Profiles of Men of Faith Who Made a Difference - made you think of William Lloyd Garrison, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mohandas Gandhi. But this book is only about the Roman Catholic men of the Knights of Columbus, or "KofC." Covering the period from the organization's founding in 1882 to the present day, the book profiles 60 men whom the author feels exemplifies the Knights' mission of charity and patriotic values. The reader might be surprised to learn that notables such as Babe Ruth, John Kennedy and Vince Lombardi were in the KofC.

Unfortunately, the short profiles are superficial and uneven. JFK and the Babe might have been Knights, but it's hard to see their membership reflected in their work. Side by side with martyrs and presidents are stories of quite modest men. The profiled men earned their place in the book by selling lots of KofC life insurance, having a military job of calling the families of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, or by dying in the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11. Each man, great and small, is shaped into a paragon of virtue and piety.

What made the book disappointing is that the backbone of the KofC is made up of humble and ordinary men who make relatively modest contributions to their communities. The book should have ignored the chancery, the Oval Office and the history books to focused on yard sales and Tootsie Roll drives. Telling the stories of these fallible flesh-and-blood men, as opposed to the plastic variety, would have been a better testament to the value of this organization.