Wednesday, May 16

The Dangerous Book for Boys

by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden
HarperCollins 2007

Do not be fooled into believing this is a cute title appended to a harmless book. This book is for boys and it is dangerous. Here is your proof, from the tiny type on the copyright page:

Note to parents: This book contains a number of activities which may be dangerous if not done exactly as directed or which may be inappropriate for young children. All of the activities should be carried out under adult supervision only. The authors and publishers expressly disclaim liability for any injury or damages that may result from engaging in the activities contained in this book.

In other words: If you have a boy, be a parent and raise them in ways that make legal disclaimers like this unnecessary.

Seriously though, boys by their very nature are curious and like to explore their world on their own terms. Yes, parental supervision is good, but so is a boy who knows how to cautiously explore the edges of his abilities. It can be a great thing for a boy and a parent to bond over, say, the building of a tree house or a go-cart but it is a greater joy for a boy to go out and learn how to master his own world.

This book is an update of the kind of American Boy's Handy Book that was published at the turn of the century, and much of what is in here wouldn't have been out of place a hundred years ago. Here's a sampling from the table of contents:
  • The seven wonders of the ancient world
  • Five knots every boy should know
  • Making a bow and arrow
  • Famous battles
  • U.S. Naval flag codes
  • Navajo code talker's dictionary
  • Understanding grammar
  • Girls
  • Making cloth fireproof
  • Secret inks
  • Navigation
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • Dog tricks
  • Coin tricks
  • Seven poems every boy should know
  • How to play poker
  • A brief history of artillery
  • The Ten Commandments
  • Common trees
  • Five pen-and-paper games
  • The game of chess
  • Books every boy should read
  • growing sunflowers
That these topics are and have been of interest to boys speaks to their evergreen nature. Did I mention that was a partial list?

I have a couple of favorite little things about this book. First, it begins with a list of essential items a boy should have. A pocket knife is first, and the book is modern enough to point out that pocket knives can still be carried on checked luggage at the airport. A little further down the list a pencil and paper are recommended in case " see a crime and want to write down a license plate number or a description... or a shopping list." Just that someone out there is planting the seed of a child always having something to write on is enough to help spawn a more literate generation, or at least one that copies down the latest fart jokes they've heard.

A little further down the list is a magnifying glass "for general interest. Can also be used to start a fire." Exactly. Don't pretend we don't know why boys love these essential tools. Sure, the could try to make flameproof cloth and then try to burn it with a magnifying glass. They might even lob off one of their fingers in the process with a pocket knife. But, again, there is little to fear if they have been raised properly.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the selection of poems every boy should know. Most of these I was forced to memorize in the 7th grade and I can't say it was always a pleasant experience. Following each poem there is a paragraph explaining the poem and it's importance and provide an opportunity to help round out a boy's street education with something a little more refined. The poems?

IF by Kipling
Ozymandias by Shelley
Selections from Song of Myself by Whitman
Invictus by Henley
Vitae Lampada by Newbolt
The Road Not Taken by Frost
Sea-Fever by Masefield

Pretty deadly stuff for boys, perhaps even dangerous, no? Personally I'd have liked to see maybe a Robert Service poem, or something with a little swash and buckle. I have buried in the archives a book entitled Songs of Men and there's some sea chanteys and other rugged bits of verse that would have easily fit it. Maybe a cowboy ballad.

When my girls are a little older I'm probably going to let them have a go at this book as well. We'll build a tree house and make bows and arrows and catch bugs in old jars. After all, what might be dangerous for boys is perfectly harmless in the hands of a girl. That's probably the best way I can spin that.

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