Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

This morning Albert Mohler writes about a book just published in the United States. The Dangerous Book for Boys was enormously successful in the United Kingdom and ought to be here.

.... A boy armed with this book will have a very fun summer indeed.

The book instantly recalls the great Victorian era of books for boys — books about boy heroes, adventurers, soldiers, and naturalists. Those books, often recognizable in their ornate cloth covers, were read and read again by boys as they grew older.

The Dangerous Book for Boys is a worthy successor to that tradition.

This book will tell a boy how to read cloud formations, make a battery, make a periscope, and construct "the greatest paper airplane in the world." Boys are told of the essential gear of boyhood — including Band-aids. Young adventurers will also learn of famous battles, the history of artillery, and how to understand girls.

On the subject of girls the authors warn that young females are likely to be "unimpressed by your mastery of a game involving wizards, or your understanding of Morse Code." Boys are also soberly warned that girls, as a general rule, "do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do." This is important to know.

On the other hand, boys are told to help girls who need assistance. Take this sage advice, for example:
If you see a girl in need of help — unable to lift something, for example — do not taunt her. Approach the object and greet her with a cheerful smile, while surreptitiously testing the weight of the object. If you find you can lift it, go ahead. If you can't, try sitting on it and engaging her in conversation.
That advice will help a middle school boy greatly. It just might help a good many college-age boys, for that matter.

The Iggulden brothers believe that boys need to get away from the computer screen, go outside, and learn to enjoy the world and make their way in it. "Boyhood is all about curiosity," they advise. Boys need to know how to build a treehouse and how to find north in the dark — and they need to know that they know these things. As the brothers explain:
How do latitude and longitude work? How do you make secret ink, or send the cipher that Julius Caesar used with his generals? You'll find the answers inside. It was written by two men who would have given away the cat to get this book when they were young. It wasn't a particularly nice cat. Why did we write it now? Because these things are important still and we wished we knew them better. There are few things as satisfying as tying a decent bowline knot when someone needs a loop, or simply knowing what happened at Gettysburg and the Alamo. The tales must be told and retold, or the memories slowly die.
Boys are introduced to Shakespeare, coin tricks, spiders, and "Latin phrases every boy should know." They learn how to waterproof fabric, juggle, and understand rugby.

The book's runaway sales in Britain surprised the publishers, but not the authors. Here is how Conn Iggulden explained the book's success:
In a word, fathers. I am one myself and I think we've become aware that the whole "health and safety" overprotective culture isn't doing our sons any favors. Boys need to learn about risk. They need to fall off things occasionally, or — and this is the important bit — they'll take worse risks on their own. If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don't end up with safer boys — we end up with them walking on train tracks. In the long run, it's not safe at all to keep our boys in the house with a PlayStation. It's not good for their health or their safety.
Expect the book to catch attention fast in this country as well — and for the same reason. Iggulden gets to the heart of the book's attraction to boys and their dads:
You only have to push a boy on a swing to see how much he enjoys the thrill of danger. It's hard-wired. Remove any opportunity to test his courage and they'll find ways to test themselves that will be seriously dangerous for everyone around them. I think of it like playing the lottery — someone has to say "Look, you won't win — and your children won't be hurt. Relax. It won't be you."

I think that's the core of the book's success. It isn't just a collection of things to do. The heroic stories alone are something we haven't had for too long. It isn't about climbing Everest, but it is an attitude, a philosophy for fathers and sons. Our institutions are too wrapped up in terror over being sued — so we have to do things with them ourselves. This book isn't a bad place to start.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, there are now over 400,000 copies of the book in print. [more]
Source: The Dangerous Book for Boys

No comments: