Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

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This week my extremely thoughtful betrothed bought a present for me. I've been working like a dog both on and off the job, and she wanted to lift my spirits a bit. She also knows I am very friendly to the psychological school that says that boys are currently having the "boy" squeezed out of them left and right. (I've recommended Michael Thompson's excellent documentary, Raising Cain, before, and I'm doing so again).

With all those thoughts in mind, she went out and got me The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden, a couple of Brits who were tired of the "sit still in your seat and, by the way, no recess for you" trend. They teach a wide range of boy-oriented skills, tricks and history, most of which has been left by the wayside years ago.

I'm of two minds about the book. Most of me loves it. It's definitely a fun read. I'm already practicing some sleight of hand coin tricks, and planning to build a battery out of quarters and vinegar-soaked paper on the next rainy Sunday afternoon.

On the other hand, it's also strongly biased towards the scientific and physical-toughness aspects of masculinity and away from the artistic. Sadly, the book is also a little bit sexist. It would have been better not to mention girls at all than to have the one entry on them, out of dozens, consist of a bunch of flirting tips like "give them flowers" and "listen to them." Useful thoughts -- but highly limiting. If the Igguldens had simply focused on boys and not opened this can of worms, I could more easily celebrate their biased approach. It doesn't bother me in the least that the book is directed only at boys; it pleases me. My fiancée clearly wasn't offended, either.

For better and for worse -- and it's both -- the book could have been published in 1965. Which is one reason it may be read more by guys my age than by our sons. (With that said, when I have one, I will give him this book -- along with a bunch of reading that delights in the softer side of life).

I do fondly remember my days launching model rockets and shooting corks out of bottles filled with baking soda and vinegar. The Igguldens cover similar fun and bracing territory, such as:

    - How to build an electromagnet
    - Well written short bios of explorers and inventors like Robert Scott and the Wright Brothers
    - Writing in invisible ink
    - Dozens of fun Latin phrases and their translations
    - The U.S. naval flag code

I'm working my way through, dreamily remembering the days I spent poring over similar compendia lo, those many years ago -- and how I used those manuals to memorize cool facts, build things, and blow up stuff.


Muffy St. Bernard said...

Ah, I'll have to pick this up! A few months ago I read "Inventing Modern" by John H. Lienhard, and -- among other things -- he went into great detail about all the ways young boys used to blow their fingers off. He showed excerpts from "boy" books from the '30s and '40s, featuring some horribly dangerous -- and FUN -- projects.

I get the impression that every kid in the '40s wanted to build a rabbit hutch.

Eric Little said...

Ah! Good ole-fashioned Fourth of July fun: a foot-long piece of pipe, a marble the size of the pipe's interior, and a cherry bomb. (Or just omit the pipe and the marble and toss the cherry bomb into an empty 55-gallon drum.)

I've put "Raising Cain" in my Netflix queue, making sure it was NOT the piece of dreck starring John Lithgow.

Thinkulous said...

I'm so glad to see you both enjoyed the Dangerous post! It sounds like the book inspires the same kinds of reveries in others as it does in me.

amysue said...

My 8 year old loves the book and while the girl advice was sort of on the lame side it had a useful side effect in that he has been nicer to his sister (12 years old). Well, when he's not pretending to eat busgs to gross her out.

Thinkulous said...

Amysue, I'm so glad to hear that a real live boy loves that book. I appreciate your stopping by!

As far as pretending to eat bugs, I guess it could be worse -- he could really be eating them.