The Dangerous Book for Boys — a preliminary report

| June 12, 2007

[UPDATED 06/15/07 – 0741 MDT]

Here’s a fascinating article from the (U.K.) Daily Mail on how children”lost” the right to roam over a few generations:

When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere.

It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision.

Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas’s eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom.

He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.

Be sure to look at the map in the article. And now back to the original posting.


I bought a copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys a few months back after Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) called attention to it. I bought it in part to support the authors for having written such a great book, but mostly for my Colorado-based grandsons (Ashton, who’s almost 8, and eventually Raiden and Ethan). It is an outstanding book, and my only complaint is: it’s too short. (I suspect, however, Vol. II is already being written.)

Well, Ashton has started looking through the book, and while a lot of the text is over his head, he is becoming intrigued by the projects. We had to explain that we don’t have an appropriate tree for a tree house, so now he’s looking at the go-kart. And the crystals. And the homemade battery (quarters and tinfoil). And I couldn’t be more tickled. When I run out in a little while, I’m stopping by Radio Shack to pick up some supplies.

Somewhere around age 8 or 9, I received a chemistry set. This was back in the pre-liability/pre-nannyism era, so it came with glass (glass!) test tubes and an alcohol lamp (for heating things up! over an open flame!) and lots of interesting chemicals. My sister Lorraine and I both got a lot of mileage out of the set, mostly doing random mixings and heatings in an effort to get an interesting reaction. (She once got the bottom of a test tube to explode, though in a relatively mild fashion; I was jealous.)

I think this is where my geek nature first emerged. I would save up allowance and wander the streets of La Mesa looking for empty soda bottles to return for deposit. I’d then take my hard-earned cash and go down to a little hobby store in downtown La Mesa that sold (among other things) chemicals and chemistry equipment. I would look carefully over the Erlenmeyer flasks, test tubes, rubber stoppers, glass and plastic piping, heating stands, test tube holders and other incredibly cool stuff — not to mention the wide assortment of chemicals and other materials — count my pocketful of change, and decide which to buy.

Even now, some 45 years later, I can remember how I drank in the sense of possibilities and the clean beauty of all that glassware and piping. And, of course, it amazes me what a nine- or ten-year-old kid was able to buy over the counter. I am glad to see a move back, however modest, towards letting kids be kids — with the risks that involves.

And I hope to have a chemistry set here the next time Ashton stays with us. In the meantime, buy the book for your own sons, grandsons, nephews or sons of friends. And then go check out the United Nuclear website for cool stuff for yourself.

[UPDATED: 06/12/07 – 2316 MDT]

Stumbled across this list detailing what it was like to be born and grow up before the 1980s. A few examples:

  • We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
  • No one was able to reach us all day, and we were O.K.
  • We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.
  • We did not have Playstations, Nintendo’s, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD’s, no surround-sound, CD’s or iPods! No cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms…….

Read the whole list. ..bruce..

[UPDATED 06/13/07 – 0908 MDT]

Here’s another satisfied customer:

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.

Buy the book. And hat tip to Instapundit for the link for this review. ..bruce..

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Category: Kids, Main

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

Comments (1)

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  1. a person says:

    My sister Lorraine and I both got a lot of mileage out of the set, mostly doing random mixings and heatings in an effort to get an interesting reaction. (She once got the bottom of a test tube to explode, though in a relatively mild fashion; I was jealous.)
    “Another satisfied customer” needs to read that excerpt from your post.
    I also had a chemistry set as a child and loved to blow things up with the best of them.
    I am a woman.

    This is a day and an age when women can speak and think for themselves. We are becoming better educated with more opportunities. But we STILL have (what sometimes seems to be) insurmountable prejudices. Stupid, thoughtless comments made by fools do not help your daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives to get their due for their hard work.

    Please, “customer”, if you read this blog, STOP persisting with outdated sexism. It helps no-one, least of which we women trying to deal with dinosaurs. I have a warrior spirit as strong as any man.