By Conn Iggulden, Hal Iggulden
I've heard a lot about this book from various corners, including Glenn Reynolds and BoingBoing, but I didn't expect to get it for Christmas. It's described as "the perfect book for every boy from eight to eighty," and we are told that by reading it we can "recapture Sunday afternoons and long summer days." If that sounds like idyllic nostalgia to you, you are quite correct -- this book is modeled on various texts boys used to read, particularly the ones that came out after Sputnik scared everyone into paying more attention to math and science education.
And reading it did remind me of how I spent Sunday afternoons and long summer days: It's one part How and Why Wonder Books, one part Boy Scout Handbook. So, yes, it was a real nostalgic trip. The book is a grab bag of different skills, experiments, trivia, and inspiring stories. If you want to learn how to tie different knots, make a battery out of quarters and foil, distinguish different pirate flags, find the Big Dipper, make a fort, play poker, and speak a few phrases in Latin, this is your book. Many of the sections begin with stern declarations about how, say, these five knots are knots that "every boy should know." As you master each skill or body of knowledge, you are encouraged to see it as essential -- and since very few people these days have mastered five knots or made batteries, you are also encouraged to see yourself as possessing elite knowledge as well. I recognize this pattern well from the books linked above, which I read voraciously as a boy. Of course, I mastered few of these skills, which I suspect is because these skills were not especially relevant to or needed in my life. That didn't make them any less fun to try out, though, and perhaps the utility of this book is more in scaffolding independence and fostering discovery than anything else. At any rate, the book is not especially dangerous, and it is certainly an interesting read.
Interestingly, in the back, the book provides pictures of six "Dangerous Book for Boys Badges" and invites the reader to print them out if the reader believes he (sic) has mastered the relevant skill, like some sort of Montessori Boy Scout. I'm still getting my head around what that indicates about the current state of boyhood.
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