The Dangerous Book for Boys (Conn & Hal Iggulden)

By , June 26, 2007 7:53 pm

There has been a lot of press and controversy surrounding The Dangerous Book for Boys. I first heard about it in an interview with one of the authors on public radio’s On Point (it seems the interview is no longer available to listen to). I found the interview to be vaguely annoying, in part due to one of the “guests,” but I also felt that the moderator was not handling things well either. However, the subject matter and theory behind the book sounded so interesting that I absolutely had to check it out. It seemed to be fitting for our unplugged family, and for Unplug Your Kids.

This book is coauthored by two British brothers who wanted to share with the world the activities that they enjoyed, and subjects that had fascinated them as children. According to the interview I heard, the authors are frustrated with plugged-in children, interested only in x-boxes, computer games and TV.

The book soared to the top of the best-seller list in England and now is climbing steadily here. Apparently certain subjects were altered to appeal to the American market (ex. cricket was removed, baseball was added). It is really sort of an encyclopedia of activities and knowledge “for boys.” The “for boys” part is what seems to have stirred up all the controversy.

Call me a wimp, but for better or worse, I am a very non-confrontational person and I really don’t want to get into a feminist, nature vs. nurture, girls vs. boys, or any other kind of debate here or anywhere else. All I can say is that the title does not bother me in the least. Might some girls like this book? Yes. Might some boys NOT like this book? Yes. Could/should the authors have called it something else? I don’t know. End of subject. I want to talk about the book, not the controversy.

This book is a bit of an encyclopedia, or guidebook, to certain activities and knowledge that might be considered lost on today’s youth. Even the cover and marbleized end papers of the book recall a bygone era.

The introduction is wonderful and explains the whole premise of this book: unplug your kids! Here is the first paragraph:

“In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage. The one thing that we always say about childhood is that we seemed to have more time back then. This book will help you recapture those Sunday afternoons and long summers-because they’re still long if you know how to look at them.”

Here, here! I so agree!

As for the rest of the book, it contains an odd array of activities (for example: Making a Periscope, Coin Tricks, Charting the Universe, Making a Battery, Marbling Paper, Secret Inks, Making Crystals, and Making Cloth Fireproof) and very diverse information (ex. Famous Battles, Navigation, The Fifty States, Baseball’s Most Valuable Players, The Rules of Rugby, Latin Phrases Every Boy Should Know, Books Every Boy Should Read, Navajo Code Talkers Dictionary, and The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). There is even a brief, two page section on advice about girls which might offend some, but I found quite amusing (for example: “Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of windbreaking will not endear you to a girl…”).

I have spent quite a few evenings reading this book in bed, and have learned a lot. It is really fascinating to me! The book is too advanced for my just-turned-5-year-old boy and also for my 6-almost-7-year-old-girl. We could maybe try a few of the activities together, but they won’t be reading it cover to cover for a while yet.

When they are older it will definitely be a fun reference for them. We’ll skip the sections on “Hunting and Cooking a Rabbit,” and “Tanning a Skin,” but some of the other information and activities will be perfect later on down the road.

The whole point is simple: kids should be out in nature and experiencing life, not sitting in front of a screen. The aim of this book is to provide a little non-preachy inspiration and some fun ideas for things to do with your kids that don’t involve a screen or a joystick.

If you are at all concerned about the political correctness of the book, or the suitability of any of the suggestions or information, then I would advise you to check it out of the library before buying it. Make sure that you are comfortable with it and that it is right for you.

I, however, love it and think it will be a fun book for us.

8 Responses to “The Dangerous Book for Boys (Conn & Hal Iggulden)”

  1. CelticMommy says:

    This book sounds fascinating! I just had a conversation with my hubby about building a tree house for the munchkins… this is now on my library/possible purchase list! Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. Ragnar says:

    I surfed over from O’Kitten’s blog, and I just wanted to say that I agree with you about the “controversy” regarding the title. Just because something is labeled “for boys” doesn’t mean it excludes girls. When my daughter was in kindergarten she told me that she didn’t want to wear a certain pair of shoes to school because another child had told her that they were “boys” shoes. “Actually they are your shoes, and you’re a girl, so those are girl’s shoes,” I explained. They became her favorite shoes.

    Anyway, I thought that the book sounded interesting, and I’ll check it out on your recommendation.

  3. Trace says:

    I hadn’t heard of the book, nor do I have children yet, but I happen to agree. Hubby and I have had more than one discussion about the infamous game systems (eg. xbox etc.). I HATE them. I think they are time wasters, but I won’t get into that. I agree w/you about playing outside and that sort of thing. That is what I did when I was a kid, but it seems like it is different in todays world because so many neighborhoods are unsafe for children to play outside unsupervised (atleast that is what I hear from my coworkers who overschedule their children w/little league, softball, football,etc.).

  4. Jo Ashcroft says:

    I agree that this book is rather complicated but there are some spin offs called ‘How to be the best at everything for boys ( and girls) which are simpler and more engaging. My seven year old loves his copy. Not sure of the authors and may only be available in the UK but worth a look on Amazon

  5. Mom Unplugged says:

    Thanks for the suggestion Jo!

    I checked on Amazon (US) and “How To Be The Best At Everything-The Boys’ Book” is available for pre-order and is due to be released on September 1, 2007. You are right, there is also a girls’ version which has the same release date and can be pre-ordered now too.

    Anyone in the US who desperately wants to read it now can order it from Amazon UK – but of course shipping can sometimes be a bit steep.

    Thank you all for your comments. It warms my heart to think that people are actually reading!

  6. Andamom says:

    Interesting! When I have time, I will definitely check it out. I remember spending hours climbing trees, working out elaborate plans to redesign my attic, digging a swimming pool (it created a mud grave my mother refilled) and so forth. Kids today are so focused on technical things that they lose sight of the fun things of yesterday…

  7. meeyauw says:

    As a middle school teacher, I am very concerned about gender equality. We have exceeded our expectations in helping girls beat the math barrier in middle school. The discouraging thing is that our boys are not doing well any longer. We are being told that we may have feminized the classroom too much.

    Our state NCLB test results demonstrated this gender problem and we are working on ways to fix it. I have bought a video and books to learn about the problem. The state is now researching this, too.

    The problem that boys are experiencing now goes far beyond their classroom problems. It extends everywhere they go. Who is teaching them the skills that are in this fascinating book?

    I am very pleased to see this book. But I am very sad that it needed to be published. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  8. Mom Unplugged says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful and interesting comment regarding the reversal of the classroom gender gap! I’ll need to read up on this.

    I wonder what the solution is? Find a common middle-ground that suits both sexes (would that be denying both genders the attainment of their full potential?) or go to single-sex classrooms?

    I agree with your point that it is sad that this book “needed to be published.” Judging by the success of the book in the UK, there must be a general desire to return to simpler activities for children.

    But how have we come so far adrift that we need a book to teach us how to skip stones for example? Are such simple, “old-fashioned” pastimes so quaint and novel in today’s world that we need a book to “introduce” them to us? I guess so.

    And of course, much of this probably boils down to parental involvement. I am fortunate that I can stay home with my children to help them and teach them. Many parents are not so fortunate and probably find it easier to turn on the TV or the x-box than take them on a nature hike after working all day. I can’t blame them because I might do the same in their shoes.

    But, as you ask, who do kids have to teach them these skills? Who do kids have to care if their homework gets done? Who do kids have to encourage them to read? (I say “kids,” because even if boys are now the ones who are left behind scholastically, I do think that many girls face a lack of attention at home too). If children today are to learn how to skip stones, perhaps they DO need to read it in a book.

    Oh dear, I may have opened a whole “box of Pandoras” here (a famous blooper by former New Mexico governor Bruce King). I said I wanted to talk about content only, but I guess I do have a bit more to say on the subject. Obviously, since my whole blog is really, in many ways, about this subject!

    Thanks again for opening up a discussion Meeyauw (even if you didn’t mean to!).

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