Updated on 05.15.07

Notes on The Dangerous Book For Boys

Trent Hamm

For the last few days, I’ve been nearly obsessed with a book entitled The Dangerous Book for Boys. It appeals to me on several levels: a father who loves to do stuff with his son, a person interested in frugality, and a person who loves fun projects. I saw mention of it on The Colbert Report a short while ago and when I saw it on the shelf at a bookstore, I felt the need to leaf through it. And before I knew it, a half hour had passed and visions of tying knots, making paper airplanes, and constructing bows and arrows floated through my mind.

For those unaware, The Dangerous Book for Boys is basically a compendium of hands-on activities and thought fodder intended to get children to engage in, for lack of a better word, analog activities. Things like making your own bow and arrow, making your own paper airplane, how to catch and skin a rabbit, how to tie lots of different knots, how to grow a crystal, and so on.

So why am I mentioning this here? I grew up quite poor, but during the summertime I was never, ever bored (winter was sometimes another story). There were always things to try and do all the time, from making my own fishing pole and trying to catch a fish to re-enacting the Battle of Pea Ridge in the backyard with five boys and a pile of sticks.

These activities were what made childhood great for me. Most of the time, the only thing I really needed was my mind and whatever spare things were laying around. My dad would pop in, come up with a great idea of some sort, and send me off down some great path where I would spend four days trying to make a rubber band catapult out of an old pile of rubber bands, a discarded two-by-four, and a saw from the garage. I even had friends that were pretty well off who would come over, expecting to be bored because I didn’t have a Sega Genesis, and before they knew it, we were out in the yard trying to determine the most effective way to catch a grasshopper. My mind and body would be occupied for days with things like this. Not only was there a certain magical innocence about it, it taught me countless lessons about various things and it was largely free – I never really wanted a high-tech toy because I was having too much fun doing these other things.

This book captures that magic, that special mixture of long summer days and imagination and working at some activity and not realizing I was learning a lot while having the time of my life.

In the end, I guess, you don’t really need this book. A well-worn copy of The Boy Scout Handbook that resides still in my bedroom would suffice, as would my copy of David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work, also on my shelf.

I guess my real dream here is to give my child the freedom of exploration that I once had, because it made me into the person I am today. And I plan to be right there with him, watching his failures and successes as he figures out how to move a hundred pound block using nothing but some wooden wedges.

If there are any frugal people out there reading this, I honestly cannot conceive of a better Father’s Day present for the father of any boy, because I can’t think of anything better than opening my child to the experiences inside. I hope that I receive it myself.

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  1. Steven Colbert just had this guy on his show last week. It was a pretty cool interview and the author was able to push his book which does sound pretty important for our age.

  2. thordora says:

    I always worry that the “stuff free” childhoods many of us had will never be repeated.

    REminds me of when I tried to make a wood plane, but my father wouldn’t let me near the tools….:)

    Must get that book for my girls…

  3. William says:

    I love this idea. There used to be a lot of old British “Boys Annuals” around with kipling readings and accounts from explorations in the land of the Cannibals (this was way before PC)mixed with “how to build a boat / wireless transmiter / rabbit trap” and mathimatical puzzles. They have all dissapeared I suppose.

    What is really funny is linking to the Amazon page for this book and watching the promotional video clip. Aparently this book will create a bond between father and son and… lead to amourous events with the wife at the end of a hard day of playtime.

    I’m Sold.

  4. Amanda says:

    Thanks, Trent. I always love your book recommendations.

  5. That sounds very cool. With four boys in the house, I’m sure we’d put it to good use.

  6. SJ says:

    My husband just came home with that book last week, after reading about it on http://blog.wired.com/geekdad/
    it’s awesome. Not just for boys!

  7. Where did you get this book? I can’t find a copy. Amazon is sold out. No store in Portland has it. I’ve been looking for the past week.

  8. p.s.

    I really want a copy of the British version because it reportedly has a section on cricket, which has always been a mystery to me. I plan to pick up the UK edition when I’m over there later in the year.

  9. Erika says:

    It sounds interesting. Stilly, it’s a pity that they did not make this revised version The Dangerous Book for Kids.

  10. Nicole says:

    I’ve heard a lot of buzz on this book in the past week. It makes me nervous, being the mom of a 3 yo boy, but I know I will have to give him room to explore and climb trees and get dirty. Do you think it would make a good father’s day gift? I’m considering that too.

  11. K says:

    This book sounds quite similar to The American Boy’s Handybook and the American Girl’s Handybook. Both are good, but I read the boys’ one to shreds, whereas the girls’ book is still intact (and I’m a girl.) The boy projects are just more fun.

  12. SuperMom says:

    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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