A perfectly wonderful bad book

Something about the holiday season makes me want to unbuckle my safety goggles, rip off my bulletproof vest, and describe The Dangerous Book for Boys. This hardcover has been out since last May, yet it remains on the bestseller list. A short quote from the preface gives us a clear idea why:

In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage.

Boys? Courage? Excellent. And since I am still in the mood to flirt with danger ... here goes.

Making a Go-Cart: The cart described in this chapter is similar, if drastically inferior, to the one that my father built for my two brothers a lifetime ago (see last week’s column, Dangerous Toys. Dangerous Joys). The similarity lies in the construction materials. Planks, ropes, fixed wheels of the sort that one might steal from a baby carriage, and various nuts and bolts. Also similar are the lack of safety features: No rollover bars. No windshields. No body armors. In fact, no body. The construction style is what my brother Chucky, survivor of my father’s go-cart, loving called a “suicide machine.”

Ah, youth!

What makes The Dangerous Book for Boys so enchanting, other than its subject matter, is the deliciously brutal style in which the contents are introduced. When describing how to create the central plank of the go-cart, for example, the authors state, “It really is a good idea to let an adult cut the wood for you, especially if power tools are involved. If you ignore this advice and cut off a finger, please do not sent it to us in the mail as proof.”

Isn’t that much nicer than a warning label? Aren’t you sick to death of warning labels? To tantalize you further, I will give you a few more excerpts.

Building a Treehouse: This chapter contains detailed plans, including the time it would take to build one (about sixty hours), and the cost (about $200), as well as the Peter Pan-like assurance of the authors that, not only will the finished product be “a thing of beauty,” but that “It really should have a skull and crossbones on it somewhere, as well.”

There are chapters on:

The Five Knots Every Boy Should Know. “They take practice and patience. Knowing them will not impress girls, but it could save your life – or your horse.”

Hunting and Cooking a Rabbit. “The aim…should be to get lunch – if you kill something, you have to eat it.”

The Greatest Paper Airplane in the World. “The Harrier – is simple, fast and can be made from a letter-size sheet of paper. It is the best long-distance glider you’ll ever see.”

Secret Inks. “Anything organic (carbon-based) that is clear or almost clear can be used as a heat-activated secret ink ... Milk, lemon juice, egg white and, yes, urine will work.”

Instructions abound on how to create ciphers, build an electromagnet, make a periscope, play poker, juggle balls, and construct a tripwire. Other chapters include: Baseballs “Most Valuable Players;” Latin Phrases; Time Line of Early American History; The Origin of Words; Famous Battles; Dinosaurs; Insects and Spiders; Common Trees; Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary; Stories of Courage and Determination; Fishing; First Aid; What Causes the Tides; and much, much more.

Boys are also given seven poems that every boy should know (Ozymandias, Invictus, If, Vitae Lampda, The Road Not Taken, Sea-Fever and Song of Myself), a nice sampling of quotations from Shakespeare, and a wonderful list of books (Huckleberry Finn and Harry Potter made the list. So did Sherlock Holmes and James Bond) ... as well as the seven wonders of the ancient and the modern worlds.

In the chapter on knots, we are cautioned that learning how to tie one will not impress a girl. An entire chapter, however, is devoted exclusively to Advice About Girls – whom the authors advise us “do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do.” Item # 5 is my favorite: “Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of windbreaking will not endear you to a girl.”

This marvelous book was written by Gonn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, which presents yet another danger as we try to wrap our tongues around the syllables of their names without getting them (our tongues, not the authors) stuck in our eyebrows. The Dangerous Book for Boys, published by HarperCollins, would be a perfect gift for your favorite man, boy, or child. I have already bought copies for my nephew and brother-in-law, and I will be buying more for my nieces and sisters, since I suspect that they, as I, would rather learn how to identify a cloud, play stickball, or skip a stone than do girlie girlie stuff. Any day of the week.

Today's Other Stories

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