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The Need to Encourage Boys to be Boys: A Great, Valuable Read!

Betsy Hart 29 September 2007 2 Comments

The really marvelous thing about “The Dangerous Book for Boys” (HarperCollins 2007) isn’t that it is–in a word and as its British adherents might say of its British authors– “brilliant.”

It’s that in four months it has taken the American market by storm.

This in a market in which we seem routinely bent on turning our boys into. . . girls.

And let me be clear: Unlike what I suspect is my feminist sister’s predilection – I don’t think this is a good thing.

“Dangerous,” by British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden (I long thought it impossible to improve on “The Brothers Grimm” when it comes to names, but I think they’ve done it) have written a book for boys and their cringing mothers everywhere.

(As a mother of 4 young kids, the oldest a 13-year-old boy, I’m convinced, by the way, that we mothers are generally supposed to cringe when it comes to much of the adventures of our kids.)

In any event, the authors lay out a list of what every boy should typically carry: “Essential Gear” they call it: A Swiss Army knife (I’m not making this up); a box of matches (ditto); a marble shooter, a magnifying glass, fishhooks and more. This is GREAT. Now if only the police, the school authorities, and the liability lawyers don’t get to the boys (or their parents) all will be fine.

But the authors lay out so much more:

In one short, colorful, descriptive chapter after another it’s simply an instruction book for boys: all about making a bow and arrow; everything you would need to know about grammar, fishing, timers and tripwires; making crystals; first aid; questions (and answers) about the world; pen and paper games; “sampling Shakespeare”; all about the moon, skipping stones, tying knots, and the game of chess, the origin of words, and a brief history of artillery.

“Dangerous” includes the Ten Commandments, information about common trees, and the “Seven Modern Wonders of the World.” That along with how-to manuals on making cloth fireproof, building a workbench, and, well, girls. (“Girls do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do” and “when you get older, flowers really do work.” Finally, “. . . make sure you are well-scrubbed, your nails are clean and your hair is washed.”)

And that’s just for starters.

In short, this is a book about what dads used to teach their sons but no longer do (or sons learned from other boys but no longer do because overly cautious parents and schools have made it so.)

In a phrase – what a drag. And what a loss.

My own three older brothers used to go to the hobby shop on their bikes (without helmets of course), buy blocks of lead, melt them down in bunson burners, pour the molten lava into forms of soldiers, then spring those little fellows onto an old ping pong table in our basement turned into a field for their war games. ( I mean complete with trees, rivers, trenches, ec.)

I so remember it. I thought it was all really cool. I thought they were really cool.

Of course, my brothers and sister and I also had a dad who would put the toboggan on the family station wagon on snowy winter nights, have us and the neighbor kids pile onto it, and drag the toboggan at high speeds behind the car. His goal was to go so fast around suburban Chicago corners that he would dump us off and force us to run and pile on again. Needless to say, this wouldn’t go over well with authorities today.

But I digress.

This book struck such a cord with me because it’s all about what I remember. It’s all about what childhood should be. But isn’t. There’s no commentary or politics in “Dangerous.” It’s stronger and more delightful for the lack of it. It’s as if it boldly proclaims, “of course this is the way it should be – who would be so silly as to suggest otherwise?”

Well, unfortunately a lot of people. I’m all for safety, and bicycle helmets and seat belts. But we tend to live in a culture today that I, for one, would describe as having a “man bad/woman good” view of the world. Women and girls are oddly considered “superior” for, for instance, pouring out our feelings, “cooperating,” and consistently cleaning up after ourselves.

Conversely, the typical competitiveness, stoicism, and aggressiveness of males – even when used for the good of country or family – is considered a. . . . “dangerous” thing.

As I read the “Dangerous Book for Boys,” I thought – what a sad irony.

What’s dangerous is when we refuse to let boys be boys.

The bottom line? Boys need civilizing – not feminizing.

The incredibly encouraging piece of this puzzle is that “Dangerous” is sweeping the United States as a mega-best seller in the same way it did Britain. And so the “Dangerous” phenomena gives me hope that no matter our social engineering otherwise – boys really do want to be boys.


Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated Scripps-Howard columnist who also writes exclusive columns for The Chicago Daily Observer where she serves on its editorial board.


  • Pat Hickey (author) said:

    The Authors should take a field trip to St. Cajetan’s Parish – in particular the corner of 108th & Maplewood where they’d witness an endless sewer baseball game; boxing matches; jai break tournements – girls included; spitting between the diastema for distance and archless accuracy; all under the watchful eyes of many parents – who do not interfere with the Byzantine rules development, nor the hierarchy established by achievement.

    The young scapegraces would do Ryder Haggard proud.

  • jeanne (author) said:

    I am definitely going to buy this book. Thanks for the great review.

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