The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden (Collins, 288 pp., $24.95)

The frontispiece in Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys says it all—a skull and crossbones boldly heralds adventure, treasure, and unbridled boyish fun. According to its English authors, this is a book for boys who want to be “self-sufficient and find their way in the stars.” It’s a delightful compendium of knowledge, life tips, building projects, games, and hands-on invention. At its heart, the book unabashedly reaffirms and celebrates the traditional moral leather that has guided untold generations of men in their voyage through life.

The Dangerous Book for Boys instructs the nascent man on how to build a tree house and make a bow and arrow, go-carts, tripwires and timers, as well as grow crystals. He can learn to marble paper, construct a common battery from a handful of quarters, skip stones with skill, tan animal skins, and make secret ink (using urine in a pinch, if milk, lemon juice, or egg whites aren’t handy). The book is also a trusty reference guide to those subjects that kindle the boyish imagination—the Golden Age of Pirates, famous battles, cloud formations, Navajo code talking, spy codes, ciphers, insects, constellations, and more.

Several sections deal simply and entertainingly with the sticky gristle of elementary school basics—the trick of understanding grammar, the origin of words, Latin phrases every boy should know, and the Ten Commandments. The authors toss an appreciation for poetry and Shakespeare into the mix for good measure.

The Igguldens, two British brothers, are unequivocal about right and wrong, and they set old-fashioned male virtues on two stout heels. The preface quotes Sir Frederick Treves, Bart, KCVO, CB, Sergeant in Ordinary to HM the King, in 1903, who counsels: “Don’t grumble. Plug on. . . . Don’t swagger. The boy who swaggers—like the man who swaggers—has little else that he can do. . . . Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind. . . . Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish,” which is “. . . one of the finest attributes of manliness.”

There’s one section that advises boys how to deal with those most vexing of all creatures: “Girls.” The guidelines to girls, numbered one through eight for easy digestion, cover everything from the importance of listening to them to using proper humor (“windbreaking will not endear you to a girl”), to whether or not a smitten boy should sign his name to a Valentine’s Day card, which risks compromising the “magic” that the anonymous admirer stirs.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of The Dangerous Book for Boys is that it doesn’t fudge the difference between boys and girls. Instead it reassures boys in a gentle voice that we are different, and should embrace that happy distinction. We shouldn’t allow those who sow doubt about such distinctions to make us fail in the civil graces and brash expectations that have always been distinctive marks of manliness. There’s a message intended for fathers, too: join in fraternity with your sons.

The pages are chockablock with red-meat entertainment for boys of any age, beginning with the “Essential Gear” that every young adventurer requires, which includes a Swiss army knife, a compass, handkerchief, box of matches (be careful!), a shooter (British translation for slingshot), needle and thread (to sew up wounds), a flashlight, magnifying glass, band-aids, and fishhooks. Ideally all these essentials would be kept in a rusty old tobacco tin, but any nifty pocket-sized container will do. The boy the Iggulden brothers envision as their reader is that sweetly tousled, chipped-toothed, rosy-cheeked marauder who is the toast of Mark Twain’s fiction, but whose irrepressible male nature appears to the modern feminist and to publishers alike as a loose chromosome in today’s gender-blender world.

Already in the grimy little hands of boys throughout Great Britain and Australia, making it a bestseller there, this book is now muscling its way into the American market in a slightly altered form to appeal to a domestic readership. It comes in an elegant, clothbound, gold-lettered cover that recalls the Victorian age, and abounds with illustrations, drawings, and sepia-toned photographs. The Dangerous Book for Boys has two American precursors: Daniel Carter Beard’s The American Boy’s Handy Book, written back in 1882, and, more recently, A Boy’s Guide to Life: The Complete Instructions, by Priscilla Turner and Susan Pohlman (Planet Dexter Publishers, 1997), a book written by two sisters that reminded us about and exalted the differences between boys and girls, but fell victim to the Ice Age of political correctness.

The Dangerous Book for Boys is sure to lure boys (and their dads) out of their cavernous video game retreats and into the loamy earth and sunlight.


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