The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, 2006, 2007.
This is an activity/hobby book for children, especially for boys, but really, full of activities that girls could enjoy, too. It’s often sold in sets with a companion book, The Daring Book for Girls. These books follow in the tradition of earlier activity/hobby books like The American Boy’s Handy Book and The American Girl’s Handy Book by the Beard siblings. Some of the activities in these modern books are similar to ones included in historical children’s activity/hobby books, but there are some notable differences. Although The Dangerous Book for Boys includes sports and outdoor activities, it has more scientific and academic information than The American Boy’s Handy Book.
The differences between these books show changes that have taken place in society, the activities that adults want to promote for children, and the types of activities that children can actually use in the 125 years between the times when the two books were published. The motives of the authors of these books were similar, all of them wanting to produce the type of activity/hobby book that they would have liked to have when they were young and didn’t have, not because other hobby books didn’t exist exist when they were young but because they were looking for something that they hadn’t found in the hobby books of their youth. In the 1880s, Daniel Beard set out to write a hobby book for American boys because many of the hobby books of his youth were poorly written and/or came from England, using words that were not used in American English or recommendations for London shops where boys could buy equipment, which were of no use to an American boy. His book, The American Boy’s Handy Book, promoted do-it-yourself hobbies, particularly ones related to outdoor activities and suitable for children who lived near woods and lakes or rivers where they could do things like go fishing, sail boats that they made themselves, or build log cabin playhouses. However, 21st century society is much more urban/suburban, and it can be difficult or impossible for modern children to do something the things that Daniel Beard recommended. The Dangerous Book for Boys was written for 21st century children, who might need a bit of nudging to get off their computers and video game systems now and then and maybe a little academic help or something to ignite an interest in history or science, but are no less interested in learning something new and interesting or something fun to do with their friends. One thing that I hope readers come to understand from these books is that the world is full of things to do. There is more to do in life than anyone will have time to do in a single lifetime, and far, far more than can be contained in any one book. The Dangerous Book for Boys (published first in the UK and later in the US) contains things that 19th century Daniel Beard might have found very interesting but didn’t exist during his time, so they never even occurred to him as possibilities, and there are bound to be more things coming in the future that people either haven’t thought of yet or are quietly working on right now, planning the books and activities of the future. There’s always something to do. People just need time to do things and the willingness to get started.
I like to explain the contents of books so that people will know whether they would like to read them in more detail. It’s difficult to describe the contents of The Dangerous Book for Boys succinctly because the contents are extensive and they are not grouped into convenient categories. It’s more like reading a very long magazine with isolated articles, although some of the articles are related to each other. It’s just that related topics are not put next to each other. For example, the information about reading star maps comes much later in the book than the introduction to astronomy, and information about the solar system comes even later, with many other sections in between. There are also some sections of trivia/interesting information, history, or academic topics which were purposely split into different numbered sections and distributed throughout the book, like Questions About the World (explaining natural phenomena like the seasons, the tides, and why the sky is blue), Famous Battles (divided into sections starting with ancient battles and then more modern ones), Extraordinary Stories (about the lives and accomplishments of famous men, including the Wright Brothers and Robert the Bruce), and Understanding Grammar (a more academic section).
Because it would be difficult for me to explain everything in this book without basically copying the entire table of contents, which would take quite a lot of space to do, I’ll just hit some of the highlights by describing them in sections that the book doesn’t have but which explain the types of activities covered in this book. All of the types of activities that I describe below are included in the book, but there is also more in the book than I could take the time and space to describe in detail.
Useful Skills and Knowledge
The book has sections explaining how to do first aid, how to tie different types of knots, how to wrap a package with brown paper and string, and how to make cloth fireproof.
I was somewhat amused by the section about how to talk to girls. Most of it is good advice, like maintaining a clean appearance and not being vulgar or overdoing it with jokes. Lesson #1 is “It is important to listen.”, which is always true. The part that I thought was funny was in the introduction: “You may already have noticed that girls are quite different from you. By this, we do not mean the physical differences, more the fact that they remain unimpressed by your mastery of a game involving wizards, or your understanding of Morse Code.” To that, I say, “Are you kidding?!” I used to have Morse Code memorized from playing the Nancy Drew computer games by Her Interactive, and I know from my fascination with activity books like this that the reason why Morse Code looks the way it does is that Morse wisely decided to make the letters of the alphabet used the most often the shortest to form. I used to play World of Warcraft, and I played every one of the available factions, but then I got more interested in physical board games and board game history. My female friends continued much longer, although they ended up switching to Final Fantasy. I’ve played both D&D and Call of Cthulu and liked them both. The more wizards, the better, as far as I’m concerned!
I always think that advice about what girls like often fails to take into account that girls are individuals with different interests and hobbies, no matter what their age. Not all woman like to wear high heels (which are stupid, annoying shoes that are bad for your feet, especially those with the dumb, skinny heels that always make me turn my ankle), and some either never wear makeup or consider it an annoying hassle that they feel obligated to do to because other people expect it. Some girls wear their hair long because they like the feminine look or like to experiment with different types of artistic braids and hairstyles, and some girls chop their hair short because they’d rather just quickly run a comb through it and forget about it. Some women, like me and my friends are geeks, who love books, play video games and role-playing games, know various types of computer programming or maker hobbies, study history, and would gladly do most of the activities in books like this. Some girls are into sports and working out. There are even some girls who are into things like hunting and even taxidermy and wished that they could have joined the Boy Scouts instead of learning to sew and bake cupcakes in Brownies. People in general can have many and varied interests. Even though this book was written for boys of the 21st century, I don’t think that the authors are really in touch with women and girls of the 21st century and understand the range of topics that many of them find interesting. Although, I think that the authors’ attitudes about girls’ interests aren’t just due to them growing up in the 20th century themselves. Guys have often tried to figure out what women like and what women want, and they frequently get it wrong because they approach the question from the wrong angle. Chaucer tackled the problem of what women want way back in the Middle Ages, and he figured it out. What women like most is often what men like most: having things their own way. What that means varies from person to person because of our different interests, but in some form or other, that’s what we all want. So, don’t try to figure out what “girls” like; just ask a particular girl what she likes. Guys don’t need to try to please all the girls in the world at once, just the one they’re with. Most people will tell you who they are and what they’re interested in, given the chance (or maybe a Facebook or Instagram page), and when a boy finds a girl who likes things that he also likes or is willing to do things that he likes to do, he’s found a good one.
Aside from random, useful life skills, there is also academic information in the book that would be useful to school, like standard and metric measurements, the sections about how grammar works, the origins of words, Latin phrases, quotes from Shakespeare, the Ten Commandments, and poems that boys should know and books that boys should read.
I count games differently from sports because sports tend to be outdoor activities and require a certain level of physical skill, and games tend to be more general, require less physical skill, and can be played indoors. This book includes some pen-and-paper games, marbles, chess, role-playing games, poker, and table football.
The book has the rules for soccer and stickball. It also discusses famous baseball players and rugby.
These are activities to do that are related to the outdoors and nature and things to make related that are related to outdoor activities, including fishing, building a treehouse, making a bow and arrow, how to hunt and cook a rabbit, how to tan an animal skin, making a go-cart, and learning various methods of navigation and different types of trees.
Science and Technology
The book describes various topics related to science, like astronomy, insects and spiders, cloud formations, and fossils and dinosaurs. There are also instructions for making projects that would probably make good science fair projects, like a battery, an electromagnet, a periscope, a pinhole projector, and crystals.
History and Geography
There are sections about US geography (I don’t know if the original UK version had this or if it focused on the geography of the UK), Early American History, the Declaration of Independence, the Golden Age of Piracy, descriptions of the Seven Wonders of the World (both ancient and modern), the sections about Famous Battles from history, and a Brief History of Artillery.
Spies and Secret Codes
There are sections about the codes and ciphers that spies use, the Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary from World War II, the US Naval Flag Codes, and how to make secret inks.
The book explains how to build a workbench, how to grind an italic nib for italic writing, and how to make marbled paper, making paper airplanes and paper hats, boats, and water bombs (these are little origami boxes that you fill with water and splat when you throw them at something – I’ve made them before).
Stunts and Random Skills
These are just random things that are fun to know how to do, like juggling, skipping stones, coin tricks. There is also a section about teaching tricks to dogs.
Dangerous Book for Boys Badges
This is the final part of the book. Since many of the activities in the book are the kind done at summer camps or in scout troops, the book overs suggested “badges” you can award yourself and your friends for doing the activities. Even though the activities in the book are not sorted into specific categories, there are six categories of badges offered: Carpentry and Woodworking, Direction and Navigation, Hunting and Fishing, Nature Exploring, Science and Experiments, and Astronomy and the Solar System. The book doesn’t specify what activities you should master to award yourself these badges, leaving that up to the reader. My copy says that if you go to their website, you can print out these badges, but that website no longer exists. I don’t know if later printings say something different.
If you’re looking for something to do with the kids during coronavirus lock-downs and/or over summer vacation, this book has plenty of ideas, and you can even make up your own “badges”, using their ideas, my category suggestions, or anything else you would like to do yourself.
The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive. I’ve also learned that the book has inspired a tv series, which is available through Amazon Prime. You can see the trailer on YouTube.