A Journalist's Archive

The Dangerous Book for Boys
Con and Hal Iggulden
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

          Con and Hal Iggulden, authors of "The Dangerous Book for Boys," have re-captured a culture and packed it into 270 pages designed to introduce boys to childhood as it existed before video games. 

          Don't let the title scare you, if you have children - male or female - buy this book.  In fact, buy two copies.  Your child's copy will get covered with grime when they take the book outside or into the garage to follow instructions for building a battery, electromagnet, or bow and arrow; your copy will let you know what they're doing out there.

           The book starts out with philosophical advice, "You hold your future in your own hands.  Never waver in this belief.  Don't swagger.  The boy who swaggers - like the man who swaggers - has little else that he can do...It is the empty tin that rattles most.  Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind.  Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish.  As a quality it is one of the finest attributes of manliness."

          Ok, so many children will skip over that and turn to the page listing the "essential gear" that all boys need.  Their eyes will bug-out when they see the first item on the list is a Swiss army knife. 

          As a parent, that's what I love about this book.  The Iggulden brothers intuitively understand how to hold a child's attention.  Interesting activities are interspersed with lessons in history, science, and grammar.  For example, immediately after describing how to make a periscope there's a chapter with seven poems every boy should know; instructions for making a bow and arrow precedes a chapter on the nine parts of speech; and the secret for creating invisible ink is followed by famous Shakespeare quotes.

          In our "ultra-safety-conscious world," mothers who have been schooled to make sure a helmet is firmly planted on their child's head before their feet ever touch a pedal may be wary of this book.  Don't be.  After all there is nothing in these pages that boys haven't been doing for generations, including learning how to hunt and cook a rabbit.  In fact, many of the activities described in this book are similar to those covered in a scouting program. 

          Some critics say the title of this book is sexist. I think it's designed to grab a boy's attention.  "Dangerous," what boy doesn't like hearing that word!  And while the book is definitely written for boys, no self-respecting girl will let the title stop her from reading it and learning how to make crystals, tie knots, or build a go-cart.  She may decide to make her invisible ink out of lemon juice instead of urine, but if I comment any further I too will be labeled sexist.

          "The Dangerous Book for Boys" is already a smash hit in England, home to the authors, so they created an American edition.  It differs from its English counterpart by including chapters covering American history, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.

          Culturally, the only activity that doesn't belong in the American edition is "Grinding an italic nib."  First of all, many American schools no longer place any emphasis on cursive writing or "penmanship."  Second, "italic nibs" are expensive pen tips used mainly by artists interested in calligraphy, buying one so your child can practice grinding it down to fit their handwriting probably isn't a priority for American parents.

          But the chapters on "Famous Battles" and "A Brief History of Artillery," may spark a child's interest in history, and learning how to do coin tricks and play chess and poker are great rainy day activities.

          However, I think the most important part of this book is the activities that get kids to go outside and explore their world.  Whether they are fossil hunting, building a tree house, looking at the stars, finding directions with a watch, or skipping stones, they will be off the couch and away from the television set.

          "In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage," the Igguldens write. 

          "The Dangerous Book for Boys" is the instruction manual every family needs to help rediscover that world.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
Article Copyright © 2007 Bluestack Consulting, Inc.
All Rights Reserved