A review of The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hall Iggulden

Yes, there’s a halcyon quality to The Dangerous Book for Boys, after all, in the main, children hardly learn history these days, grow up mostly without a well rounded education that includes Latin and grammar, don’t know how to make a go-cart, and have no idea about the 7 wonders of the world. It isn’t that hard to change that. Just get a copy of this book and sell it as a secret guide to all things that every boy must know, and you’re well on the way to ousting the Xbox. With any luck it could become a trend.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Dangerous Book for Boys
By Hal and Conn Iggulden
HarperCollins
Hardcover: 294 pages, August 2006, ISBN: 0007232748, A$39.99

Never mind the boys, The Dangerous Book for Boys is one of those gorgeous tomes that adults will want to keep for themselves. Okay, my nine year old read it cover to cover, brought it to school, and kept it on his person so long that the book is now moth-eaten, full of dog-ears, and witness to a lot of danger. I finally managed to prise it from him so I could write this review, and after reading it, I understood exactly why he didn’t want to let it go. Although there is a clear English-lad bias to the Iggulden’s selections, the bits and pieces of “essential knowledge” that this book contains is the kind of information we may well be losing in this day of busy parents, too many lessons, too much television, and electronic voiceless games like the Xbox and Nintendo.

The book is a veritable Scouting manual full of things like how to create a really good paper plane, how to make, harden and play conkers, juggle, make a catapult, how to play football, play poker, chess, and how to fish. There are also great adventure stories including Scott of the Antarctic, Lord Nelson, and Joe Simpson’s survival in the Andes, poems, a sampling of Shakespeare, Latin phrases, a list of books every boy should read, and a fact encyclopaedia including dealing with a star map, why the sky is blue, grammar, astronomy, first aid, and light.

True to its title, there is a kind of imparting of secret knowledge quality to the Iggulden’s prose (and I love the idea of two brothers pulling this book together out of their shared stock of knowledge). The writing is a unique combination of matter-of-fact bluntness, mingled with a kind of whispered hush that puts the writer on exactly the level of the reader. I can imagine how grown-up and special a child will feel reading this. As for adults, you feel as if you deserve a special hat to wear once you’ve worked your way through. Check out this passage for example, about secret inks:

The trouble with this sort of thing is that the cover letter must look real, but not so real that your spy doesn’t look for the secret message. As with the section on codes, some things work better with a little planning. Invent a sister – and then they will know that every letter that mentions the sister by name contains secret words.

Secret inks allow you to send confidential information by post. If it’s not expected, it’s not at all likely to be spotted.(167)

The book itself is absolutely beautiful, without overt gilt. The clean red hardback cover with its gold and black lettering gives it a classic and slightly old fashioned look. Inside the feeling continues with illustrations, colour plates, charts, and beautiful marbled end papers.

The Dangerous Book for Boys is the kind of book children could share with their father. Although I loved it, there is a distinctive blokey feeling about it, and if it encouraged fathers to spend time with their sons building tree houses, playing conkers, charting the universe and creating batteries, it would be well worth it’s relatively modest purchase price. It might also hold the key to getting modern children to forget about that horrid but ever popular word “bored” and start making use of the many resources around them to create interest and enjoyment.

Yes, there’s a halcyon quality to The Dangerous Book for Boys, after all, in the main, children hardly learn history these days, grow up mostly without a well rounded education that includes Latin and grammar, don’t know how to make a go-cart, and have no idea about the 7 wonders of the world. It isn’t that hard to change that. Just get a copy of this book and sell it as a secret guide to all things that every boy must know, and you’re well on the way to ousting the Xbox. With any luck it could become a trend.

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