The Dangerous Book For Boys, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden (Harper Collins)

Experts in medicine and psychology have long overlooked the fact that the physiology of boys comprises, among other more expected items, slugs and snails and a number of puppy dog tails. Girls, who have instead a goodly measure of sugar and spice and all things nice, will find nothing of interest in this book. For them there are saddle club books and babysitter club books; Sweet Valley High and The Naughtiest Girl Is A Monitor. For a healthy boy, The Naughtiest Girl isn’t naughty enough, not by half. A boy likes mayhem; a boy likes to blow things up.

My first complaint about The Dangerous Book For Boys is that it isn’t dangerous enough, and that the desire to know how to blow things up is not satisfied in these pages. Perhaps they will correct that omission in a future edition. However, there are very satisfying entries on conkers and catapults, making a bow and arrow, magic tricks, secret inks, pirates, hunting and cooking a rabbit, and a brief history of artillery.

This book is for healthy boys everywhere, and will induce a nostalgic glow in those aged over forty. Most of the fields of knowledge just mentioned were second nature to me as a boy. An odd thing is that they were not passed down from father to son, in the way of much oral lore, but from boy to boy. My brother and I made arrows with four-inch nails bound to the end with copper wire. He shot me once, after assuring me that if I stood behind a shrub, the arrow couldn’t possibly go through. It did, and buried itself in my leg with a pleasing thunk.

Modern boys have somehow missed these experiences; the horizontal knowledge-ways have broken down. Boys don’t know what they need to know, and this book aims to put that right. And so there are also entries on marbles, fishing, “The Greatest Paper Plane In The World”, how to play poker, and spiders. There is a very useful entry on Girls. The advice here is very sound. “Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of wind-breaking will not endear yourself to a girl, just to pick one example.” And a good example it is, too: I know more than one man who has yet to learn that. The arcane skills taught in these pages will not necessarily help in this regard, either: “As a general rule, girls do not get quite as excited about the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do.” On the value of listening: “It is good advice to listen closely, unless she also has been given this advice – in which case an uneasy silence could develop, like two owls sitting together.”

That’s the wonderful thing about this book: it is both funny and extremely sensible. The sturdy hardcover recalls those mouldy Boys’ Annuals your aunt used to give you that smelled a bit off (the Annuals, not the aunt), and tales of derring-do, Empire, and Richmal Crompton’s Just William. It includes a list of books every boy must read, and it is baffling that the William books are missing. So is Ian Serraillier’s They Raced For Treasure, Arthur  Ransome’s Swallows And Amazons, R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island, and Kipling’s Stalky and Co. (complaints two, three, four and five). But the list does include Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and Willard Price’s adventures of Hal and Roger Hunt are there, so all’s well.

Boys love facts, and this book is full of all the right ones. My eight-year-old boy can tell you which of Henry VIII’s wives had an extra nipple, and which had an extra finger. The same wife, Anne Boleyn, if you want to know – and if you didn’t want to know, then go sit with the girls. This isn’t the book for you.

Christchurch Press

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Tim Tweets