The Speculist: Living Dangerously


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Living Dangerously

Friday night the family and I went to our local Barnes and Noble bookstore. The moment I entered, I spotted the bright red visage of the notorious Dangerous Book for Boys.

This is a book that Glenn Reynolds and his wife Helen have been all over. Reactions to the book are visceral. It's political incorrectness is such a breath of fresh air that it's very popular with many but its controversial with everybody else. Few can be on the fence about this book.

I was a little surprised to see it so prominently displayed at Barnes and Noble. Their books run the gamut of political and social ideologies, but their display choices – at least at my location – tilt left. This book must have earned its placement with sales.

I bought the book and gave it to my two oldest boys. It took them a few minutes to get excited about it. Everything about the way the book looks is old fashioned in a way that might not initially appeal to Generation X-box. The photographs have that 50's era look – on purpose. It's part of the retro – let's get back to when kids were allowed to play unsupervised for five minutes - motif.

But the text doesn't pretend its 1955. There aren't projects in here that leave modern kids out. That's a problem with the authentically old American Boy's Handy Book. That book makes suggestions like "first take a buggy whip..." Fortunately The Dangerous Book for Boys talks directly to the 21st century. When it mentioned the cost of lumber that goes into a tree house – about $200 – it points out that parents would spend more on a video game machine.

When my boys really got into this book they went nuts. Before the night was out they had fashioned a battery out of a role of quarters. I'm a little fuzzy on the particulars, but tape and aluminum foil was also involved. They got a flashlight bulb to burn for a few seconds. I was impressed.

Then I got into the act. Early Sunday morning I read the section of the book on secret codes. Armed with that info I invented my own system. Sorry, but I've been told that (on pain of death) I can't divulge the secret code to anyone outside the family. Get the book and you'll be able to invent your own code.

I wrote out an explanation of the code in a leather bound journal I gave the boys. Then I collected a few things around the house to make a buried treasure. I had a silver dollar, a two dollar bill, and a scouting patch. I put all this is a little water-proof container and buried it somewhere on my five acres.

You would have thought it was Christmas morning the way the guys took to this game when they got up. They took almost an hour to decode the treasure clue. After that they ran out to the garage and grabbed a shovel. They were whooping and hollering all the way to where "X" marked the spot.

Some might wonder why a book like this is controversial at all. It really shouldn't be, but our educational system over the last twenty or thirty years has been built on the conceit that boys and girls are basically interchangeable. The fact that this is blatantly untrue to anyone who spends five minutes with an actual child is ignored. If a good feminist ever has a moment of doubt and begins to think that the sexes are different, she at least acknowledges that the differences are a bad thing. If girls are quieter and less violent, then boys should be made to be like them. If a boy has a warrior spirit, it should be discouraged.

But we still need tough men. Women can be good police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel, but given the choice most would rather not be. It's usually men that actively seek those jobs. And frankly, few people (men or women) truly admire a spineless man in any profession. The male spine is not the product of sensitivity training. It's grown on football fields, dodge ball courts, and - as The Dangerous Book for Boys points out - in unsupervised outdoor play.


... Sorry, but I've been told that (on pain of death) I can't divulge the secret code to anyone outside the family.

I'm not a cryptography expert, but from everything I've read, if you can't divulge the details of the code, then it's probably not a good code and ought to be avoided. That's as opposed to not divulging the key that you use to encode any particular message.

On the other hand, it obviously served its purpose by entertaining a few boys :)

The school system has tried to feminize boys for twenty or so years now. It's not working out very well, because a society without a strong masculine presence is a society ready to be overrun by outsiders.

Radical feminism is overdue for a huge backlash. The moron Faludi thought she was writing about a backlash. But that was a feminist-size "sort-of backlash."

The backlash that is building is a man-sized backlash, and it won't be pretty.

Very cool, I have to try that battery thing. You wrote:

Some might wonder why a book like this is controversial at all. It really shouldn't be, but our educational system over the last twenty or thirty years...

I have to level with you, Stephen. I've looked, and I can't find the controversy. Glenn has been blogging a blue streak about this book, but I don't see a single link to anyone objecting to it on pro-feminist or man-bashing grounds. Glenn is playing up the social and political aspects of the book's success -- and I'm not saying there's nothing signficant about a book like this being successful -- but so far it seems to be a book that everybody more or less likes. Out of 74 reviews on Amazon, the very few negative ones had nothing to do with politics -- mostly just nitpicky stuff. The only reader who came close to objecting on PC grounds was a woman who didn't care for the book's unwavering pro-British tone.

Maybe there's hope for the world after all...


Great to see that you are very much earning your Father’s Day! I applaud your personal effort to make the future a better place.

In this spirit, as well as that so succinctly offered in Phil's comment above:

"Maybe there's hope for the world after all..."

I'd like to offer another book that you might like to take a look at. (I’m dying to give a copy of it to my nephew when he is a bit older.) Caveman Chemistry: 28 projects from the Creation of Fire to the Production of Plastics by Dr. Kevin Dunn ( vitae ), available at fine booksellers everywhere, but most especially from Lindsays Technical Books, a source which could provide tons of additional resources along similar lines.

I’ve been following the evolution of this particular work for over five years at Dr. Dunn’s website and, although the prose might be a little outré’ for your boys, the projects definitely look cool. (see the Table of Contents on Amazon for topics)

I’m a firm believer in the thesis that one should know how the things around them are made and to be capable and experienced in making as many of them as possible. Summed up another way (by a more quotable source):

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” – Robert A. Heinlein Time Enough for Love via wikiquote

I’ve also been collecting a variety of additional, similar, project ideas (twine, rope, glue; hide & casein acetate, paints; tempera & oil at least, ink, graphite, pencils, block printing, screw press, movable type, bookbinding, bio-diesel, etc.) to add to these sources.

Mike Sargent


I could tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you. :-)

Actually it's a simple letter substitution system that does have a key involved. The key is changed each message which means the boys have to work a little each time they decode a message.


No need for a bloody revolution. If we fathers were more involved and assertive some of the worst abuses - such as labeling normally active boys ADHD and demanding they be medicated - could be curtailed.


Sorry, I should have linked to some of the controversy. Here's an Amazon thread that has quite a few negative comments.

One example:

"I think either "for boys", or "for girls" books targeting children are stupid, and I'm a man... Grew up hunting small defenseless animals, playing in dirt, and cranking wrenches on cars. Still think this book is bogus."

Another comment:

"What are they talking about 'de-masculination' of men. Masculinity is based solely on pushing women down, to prop up some exaggerated sense of self about themselves. Its all bull. Only the weak need illusions like that.
Why can't girl gangs ride their bikes around the neighborhood looking for fun things to do. These types just want to keep that activity reserved for males only. Insecure, and misogynist."

I'll grant that these comments don't equal an editorial at the New York Times. But there are a few hard-core feminist types who get offended at the sight of a book written specifically for boys.


Thanks for the link. We'll check it out!

I'm certainly not offended by a book written specifically for boys. I just don't like false dichotomies that use feminization as a nasty word. We all have masculine and feminine attributes. It's only in hyper exaggerated masculinity and forfeited femininity that we run into trouble. So, I'm all for letting boys be boys and learning how to be boys in a healthy way. And letting girls be girls, strong and free but not coarsened and masculinized.

Don't let feminists push your buttons until you start denigrating the valuable stereotypically feminine attributes society needs to stay balanced.

Real feminists are feminine--they just want equal respect.


Very true.

I just got the book yesterday for my son, who is 6 - he thinks it's OK (yeah - it's a bit old for him)

The joke? My daughter (10) LOVES it! She's dived right in. She like's dad (my) weird hobbies - you know, Ham radio, machine shop stuff (son like to watch that too) etc

So, it might be a book for biys - but there are plenty of girls who will read it between dance classes, and learn something. Maybe she'll grow up to appreciate a real man

My son and I got the book and made bows and arrows. We also made a video of it, and here it is:

$200 for a tree house!!??

This book has zero credibility.

Today, as in my boys' day and as in my day, a good tree house will cost precisely zilch. 2/3rds of the fun is riding the bike around to construction sites and dumps to scavenge the materials!

Great post. I can see the boys running out the door with a shovel as we speak. I'm picking up a copy of this book, this weekend. I'll let ya know my experiences.

I have to agree that this book has not appeared without controversy -- mostly hysteria from feminists who have had ideas running their way since the 1960's.

I'm an Amazon Top 500 reviewer, and I posted a positive review of this book, which DID include the key sentence, "Men and women are not interchangable parts." A few days later, a really nasty commented zinged in, alleging (like one of the posters here) that her DAUGHTER had fallen madly in love with the book etc. etc. and so forth.

Rather than reply with the obvious fact that -- if the report was true, that made her daughter a tomboy -- I simply deleted the review, and the comment went with it.

Just as another comment. Someone said that "I just don't like false dichotomies that use feminization as a nasty word."

This person must not realize that "feminization" is just about the most horrible thing imaginable, to a boy.

And what is "false" about that?

When applied to boys, feminization is a nasty word. They are not designed to be feminized. The attempt to do so will create wimps and thugs, and a lack of well adjusted men (strong, stable and capable of appropriate treatment of women).

The entire government school system is designed to feminize boys. And yes, any small attempts to escape such feminization---such as this dangerous book for boys---is seen as a backlash against feminism from the radical's viewpoint.

Stephen, the term "bloody revolution" is your phrase, not mine. It is bad blog etiquette, to put words in a commenters mouth.

I think "feminization" is bad for girls too. I think it's just a special form of consumer-ization based on the sterotype that women like to shop; let's teach girls to shop too. (all the way to games about the being at the mall) Men are obsessed with gadgets; buy dad gadets for father's day. Everyone needs to express their feelings via a purchase; we should be more expressive of our emotions. Try giving someone a 'just' a card for an occasion; see if, after they're disappointed that there is no attached gift, flip the card over to see if at least it's a Hallmark card.

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