A review of The Dangerous Book for Boys, Australian Edition

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Dangerous Book for Boys, Australian Edition
By Hal and Conn Iggulden 
ISBN: 9780732286354, August 2007, Non Standard Hardback, $45.00

A year ago the world became a more dangerous place, and the overwhelming response was gratefulness. The hunger for the sort of basic skills and knowledge that the Igguldens were providing was clear. The original Dangerous Book for Boys was the ideal primer on everything a boy needs to know, from how to make good paper planes to the secrets of conkers, juggling, football, chess, and fish, along with some excellent history lessons, great adventure stories, star maps, first aid, and a million other things that dads really should be passing onto their sons but probably don’t anymore.

The latest version has been revised to include content specifically for Australia, and that can only be a good thing. The original Dangerous book had quite a lot of English history. This one is equally beautiful, with a simple but appropriately Olympian green and gold cover instead of a red one, and a new forward by the most Aussie of Aussies John Doyle (aka Roy Slaven). The critical stuff is all still there. Boys (of any age) who receive this will still learn about the all important “Essential Kit”, how to make perfect paper planes, knots, the wonders, fossils, catapults, bows and arrows, and even the kings and queens of England and Scotland along with the most famous battles. But wait, there’s more. The Aussie version is the perfect panacea to falling local literacy standards (and perhaps should be standard issue to all of our politicians, to avoid embarrassment at the very least), and contains information on things like a list of The Prime Ministers of Australia (bet you can’t name them all), the rules of Aussie Football, information on Australian snakes, new heroes like Sir John Monash, or a compendium of Australian trees.

The writing itself is easy to read, and while the vocabulary isn’t overtly difficult, neither is it too simplistic. Children of almost any age will take to the perfect combination of its avuncular but slightly conspiratorial tone:

The identification of trees can seem a formidable task. Overhearing a botanist wandering around murmuring ‘Sequoiadendrum giganteum’ may be a little scary. There is nothing wrong with recognising varieties by a process of categorisation and elimination, however. (244)

As with the original Dangerous Book, the book contains a kind of muted, classy beauty with secret looking pen and ink drawings, coloured plates which are true in look to their original sources, and a broad range of diagrams and photos. The attractive marble end papers are now gold, and the whole book has a lovely richness about it.

I have to admit that both my daughter and I enjoyed reading this book, but it is certainly targeted at boys and since some of the information it contains, like building a treehouse, timers and tripwires, or above all, the section on girls, is indeed dangerous. So the ideal is for fathers to share it with their sons and the current targeting of this as a Father’s Day gift is a good one. Buy it for dad, and hopefully, reap the benefits of shared time together doing the sorts of wonderful things that long working hours, too much tellie, and too few conversations have rendered ‘old fashioned.’

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.