"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Dangerous Book For Boys: Making Good Boys Better Ones?

This has nothing to do with Freemasonry. But then again, maybe it does. The Dangerous Book For Boys harkens back to an earlier time, before we had raised a nation of wimps, crybabies, bedwetters and Ritalin-sated video game obsessives. It was a day when boys played with bows and arrows, slingshots and pointed sticks, and climbed really tall, dangerous trees to build rickety forts with No Girlz Alloud. And along the way they learned to get along without getting their parents to sue each other or have the state pass anti-bullying laws or prosecute 4th graders for "hate crimes." With 30% of U.S.children living in single-parent households (overwhelmingly Mom with no Dad), here's a book to help a good boy become a better one.

This book was a smash hit in the U.K. in its first incarnation. The new U.S. edition has been updated and Americanized, but I admired this book as soon as I read the introduction:

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 after- noons and long summers—because they’re still long if you know how to look at them.

Boyhood is all about curiosity, and men and boys can enjoy stories of Scott of the Antarctic and Joe Simpson in Touching the Void as much as they can raid a shed for the bits to make an electromagnet, or grow a crystal, build a go-cart, and learn how to find north in the dark. You’ll find famous battles in these pages, insects and dinosaurs—as well as essential Shakespeare quotes, how to cut flint heads for a bow and arrow, and instructions on making the best paper airplane in the world.

How do latitude and longitude work? How do you make secret ink, or send the cipher that Julius Caesar used with his generals? You’ll find the answers inside. It was written by two men who would have given away the cat to get this book when they were young. It wasn’t a particularly nice cat. Why did we write it now? Because these things are important still and we wished we knew them better. There are few things as satisfying as tying a decent bowline knot when someone needs a loop, or simply knowing what happened at Gettysburg and the Alamo. The tales must be told and retold, or the memories slowly die.

The stories of courage can be read as simple adventures—or perhaps as inspiration, examples of extraordinary acts by ordinary people. Since we wrote them, it’s been a great deal harder to hop about and curse when one of us stubs a toe. If you read Douglas Bader’s chapter, you’ll see why. They’re not just cracking stories, they’re part of a culture, a part we really don’t want to see vanish.

Is it old-fashioned? Well, that depends. Men and boys today are the same as they always were, and interested in the same things. They may conquer different worlds when they grow up, but they’ll still want these stories for themselves and for their sons. We hope in years to come that this will be a book to dig out of the attic and give to a couple of kids staring at a pile of wood and wondering what to do with it.

When you’re a man, you realize that everything changes, but when you’re a boy, you know different. The camp you make today will be there forever. You want to learn coin tricks and how to play poker because you never know when the skills will come in handy. You want to be self-sufficient and find your way by the stars. Perhaps for those who come after us, you want to reach them. Well, why not? Why not?

The book is a cross between Boy's Life, the Boy Scout Manual, and a G-rated Steal This Book. But what I really like is the philosophy behind it. For all of modern society's cynical sneering and social engineering, boys need to be allowed to be boys, and single moms can't fill every need. Moms can't teach boys about chivalry and how to be both strong and honorable. And video games can't teach boys about true heroism or cunning or or leadership or problem solving. There's a reason this book is the #2 book on Amazon this weekend.

"The tales must be told and retold, or the memories slowly die." Truer words were never spoken. And maybe, just maybe, society is at long last reawakening to some of the virtues of being a man that it's spent four decades casting on the ash pile. And maybe, just maybe, this post really is about Freemasonry after all.


  1. What a coincidence. I was just perusing the amazon.com bestseller list last night and ran across this book. It immediately piqued my curiosity and after reading the introduction you've posted and a couple of reviews, I added it to my wish list. I'm still enough of a boy at almost fifty-two years of age to be intrigued by the contents of this book. It unquestionably points out yet another niche in our society that freemasonry can help fill.

  2. I saw a segment on this book on the Colbert Report.

    It kind of strikes me as a sort of 21st century version of Daniel Carter Beard's American Boy's Handy Book (still in print!) or B-P Scouting for Boys (also still in print).

    Frankly, this is what programs like Scouting are all about. Sadly, the 'health and safety' attitude that the authors are reacting about is affecting Scouting as well. Maybe this could be a rallying point to save such programs from this sort of thing.

    Also, there's a website for the book: http://www.dangerousbookforboys.com

    Watch the 'trailer' on the website!!

    I don't have any sons, but will get a copy for my nephew.

  3. Another book that I think is great (maybe even better than Dangerous Book) is The Big Book of Boy Stuff by Bart King. I found this in B&N when I was helping my son look for a science fair project book. Thia book has all kinds of fun activities, and the author explains the science behind the experiements. It’s also got a section on girls, gross stuff like vomit and burping, and some funny jokes and wacky facts.

    He also has a Big Book of Girl Stuff that is very cute, and a great book for middle-school girls who might need some reassurance.


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