Where are the real men today? A new study, published in the Journal of Hand Therapy, reported researchers asked 237 participants aged under 30 to exert as much force as they could on a hand dynamometer. The results showed that strength scores were lower for both men and women than they were in 1985. Specifically, men’s hand strength decreased by 20 pounds.
Are men weaker today than they were 20, 50, 100, 177 years ago?
Enter John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood. Author William Carlsen tells the story of these men in his book, Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey and The Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya.
Carlsen describes Stephens and Catherwood as “a mismatch, an unlikely pair for such a revolutionary journey. One was a red-bearded, gregarious New York lawyer; the other a tight-lipped, clean shaven English architect and businessman.”
The year was 1839 and they “were about to alter the world’s understanding of human history.” Carlsen follows these men on a 2,500 mile chase through the mountains and jungles of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.
Stephens and Catherwood braved some of the most horrendous ordeals as they pressed on with their discovery. Carlsen describes one ordeal this way,
“Along with the natural beauty came the murderous mini-vampires. The mosquitoes were driving them out. Every night was torture. “We held our ground against them for two nights,” Stephens wrote. The men were apparently without their netting. On the third evening they were finally forced out of the temple, only to be driven back in again, seeking relief but never able to find it. They had all but given up sleeping. “A savage notice to quit was continually buzzing in our ears and all that we cared for was to get away.”
But they didn’t quit.
On another occasion Stephens and Catherwood experienced unpleasant encounters with vicious, blood-drawing “bottle rump” and “doctor” flies; deadly snakes and alligators the size of logs. To ward off flies, they would find it necessary to smoke nearly all day just to keep them away.
Once, while escaping a raging forest fire, a swarm of giant flies escaping the fire too, followed them. The flies descended on them and attacked their mules. “Every bite drew blood. For an hour we labored hard but could not keep their heads and necks free” Stephens explained. “The poor beasts were frantic, and in spite of all we could do, their necks, the insides of their legs, mouths, ears, nostrils, and every tender part of their skin, were trickling with blood.”
The book is filled with riveting accounts like these. It does however bog down when Carlsen takes several chapters to describe Stephens’s and Catherwood’s early life.
The book is filled with expedition, politics, archeology and the American spirit.
Stephens and Catherwood were not the first to discover the Maya civilization, however they were the first to write extensively about it and provide intricate drawings (the camera was not in use at the time) of grand temples, palaces, courtyards, statues, stelas, pyramids, archways, caves and more.
The book is not just the Mayan discovery story which is fascinating, especially when they uncover their first city, it also tells the account of the development of a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama. Stephens was one of the key planners for that colossal endeavor. Stephens did not live to see its completion, but of that railroad Carlsen writes:
“From its inception to its consummation, it is purely American,…American genius conceived the plan; American science pronounced it practicable; American capital has furnished the sinews; American energy has prosecuted the gigantic enterprise to its completion in spite of the most formidable difficulties.”
America is exceptional. Jungle of Stone helps us see that. It is a story of real men, strong men; men with firm grips.
Where are these men today? Are they only found in history–in the pages of books like Jungle of Stone?
Bring me men to match my mountains,
Bring me men to match my plains,
Men with empires in their purpose,
And new eras in their brains.
Bring me men to match my prairies,
Men to match my inland seas,
Men whose thoughts shall pave a highway
Up to ampler destinies,
Pioneers to cleanse thought’s marshlands,
And to cleanse old error’s fen;
Bring me men to match my mountains –
Bring me men!
Sam Walter Foss, The Coming American