Fueled by a lifelong curiosity about masculinity and a passion for bodybuilding, debut author Michael Andor Brodeur, a classical music critic at The Washington Post, gives a wholly unique work that includes a history of the gym, examines the politics of superheroes, and much more. Swole: The Making of Men and the Meaning of Muscle views masculinity through a queer Gen-X lens and concludes by considering our unaddressed male mental health crisis, fueled by the parasocial pull of online cultures. The book hit stands on Tuesday.

In Swole, Brodeur sums up why brawn deserves our serious consideration. 

“Men have ended up at a regrettable intersection of contradictions, where their longing for connection and community is stunted by a macho commitment to hyper-individualism. Where their posture of self-determination is often fed to them like formula from a cast of grifters, gurus, pseudo-intellectual thought leaders, and life coaches,” Brodeur said in the book’s release announcement.

Across 12 sections, Brodeur offers an intimate memoir of the body that tells the story of his own insecurities, his physical and psychological transformation in the gym, and the many ways that American culture, from He-Man and beyond shaped his relationship to his body.

“It would be silly, not to mention impossible, to try and distance the symbol of the buff male bod from its long and wide lineage of unsavory cultural signifiers. As a mascot for classical beauty, the meathead must also embody white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and a vast panoply of nationalisms,” he added.

Swole signals a fresh examination of the meaning of manhood in the 21st century and the role bodies play in defining one’s true strengths. Brodeur shows how it is possible that men can celebrate themselves while rejecting the aggression, objectification, and misogyny that have for so often accompanied the quest to become swole.

Brodeur has been the classical music critic at the Washington Post since 2020. Prior to that, he was on the editorial teams at Boston Globe and Boston’s Weekly Dig. Other writings have appeared in NylonThrillistEntrepreneurMedium and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He has also released five music albums under different monikers, most recently writing and performing electronic music under the name New Dad.

—From staff reports