In the Dangerous Book for BoysThe Dangerous Book For Boys --2008 publication., Conn and Hal Iggulden created created a new classic. Written in a style that was a throwback to the early 1900s, they resurrected and updated a lore for boys found in books like the original Boy Scout Handbook and the American Boy's Handy Book--a little archaic, a little politically incorrect, but timeless, and always amusing. The success of this book spawned the inevitable spin offs and sequels and the Igguldens joined the fray with some lesser 'Dangerous Boy' pocket books, kits, games, and even calenders.
The Dangerous Book of Heroes is the Igguldens' latest attempt to capitalize on their earlier success and as with most sequels it never quite makes the grade. It is essentially a series of mini-biographies of historical figures that the Igguldens feel were pivotal, heroic and whose stories can serve as an inspiration for the youth of today. This time, however, the Igguldens seemed bogged down by the archaic style that worked so well last time. Here, the use of language and tone makes these vignettes seem just a little too old fashioned and a little too long. Moreover, I still haven't figured out the intended age group for this book: the authors occasionally veer off into topics that are a little too grisly or scatological for the young reader; yet the content seems a little superficial for children in their early teens. That being said, the book is a worthy attempt to assemble biographies of historic figures that children can aspire to, it just never quite strikes the right chord.
The writing ranges in style from a sort of watered down 11th edition Encyclopedia Brittanicaesque to the kind of written for children biographies circa 1940 to 1960 that you might have borrowed from your public library as a kid. The biographies are complimented by pen and ink drawings that appropriately bring back that feeling of a bygone era. The level of detail is somewhat random, with George Washington at the top of the pack with 27 pages of narrative and the astronauts of Apollo 11 taking a large step for mankind at 7 pages. The shorter biographies held my interest more than the longer ones. The George Washington, Captain Cook, William Bligh, and Horatio Nelson vignettes suffered a little from laundry lists of accomplishments, battles, and/or ports of call.
Generally, however, the vignettes were serviceable encapsulations of the subjects lives. The best of the best, in my opinion, were those of Sitting Bull, the women of the SOE, Winston Churchill, and Harry Houdini. The authors were able to hold my attention by pointing out the remarkable and admirable characteristics of the heroes described, their major accomplishments, and interesting, lesser known facts about these heroes in a succinct and accessible fashion.
The reading level seems uneven to me, although it may well be that the choices of words used are more characteristic of a British child's vocabulary. Adults will have no problems here, but children ages 7 to 16 in the US may fall a little short. There is also a tacit understanding that the reader has a rudimentary knowledge of basic British history, the workings of the British government, military terminology, and relationships in the British monarchy. Here too, a child in the US might be at a bit of a loss.
The choice of the subjects for the biography was solely at the discretion of the authors, but some statistics are revealing. There are 36 vignettes in total, most are about individuals but some describe groups of people. 29 of the vignettes are exclusively about men and 5 of them are exclusively about women. Quickly counting, there appear to be 17+ Brits (it really depends on how you do the counting), 7 Americans, a single Native American, and a single African American. Asia is only represented by the Gurkhas and Tenzig Norgay (who shares the spotlight with the be-knighted New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary). Canadians everywhere will cheer for Billy Bishop, their single entry in the book. There is but one French woman, who was one of the women of the SOE. I couldn't find any Africans. There were no Muslims of note. Given the conspicuous absence of the word "boy" in the title of this book, I believe that the Igguldens were trying to attract a more diverse audience. However, the content of the biographies leans toward the white, British or American man and shows a glaring lack of diversity. That being said, an African would have as tough a time as a Spaniard or German in finding a hero herein to relate to. The Dangerous Book for Boys has been translated into many languages, I doubt that this will be the case for this title.
The authors are mostly successful in maintaining their characteristic tone, but sometimes the tone made me shudder. The most glaring reference occurred when the authors referred to one of the Alamo's defenders as "[Jim] Bowie's black freedman, Sam." I am sure that Sam was referred to in this manner in some older historical texts, but it would have been more appropriate to refer to Sam as Jim Bowie's hired servant. There are also references to sexual behavior, venereal disease, adultery, cannibalism, etc. that are certainly part of the history and would work for older readers, but if this book was intended for 7 to 10 year olds it would have been better to gloss over some of this.
All this being said, there is worthy and interesting information that can be found herein, but the book is simply not as universal or as classic as the Dangerous Book for Boys, and for this reason I was sadly disappointed. I did enjoy reading many of the biographies presented and do believe that they have a certain value to them. But this is not a book that I could recommend wholeheartedly as an extension of the authors' 'Dangerous Book' series and would suggest that you read the excerpts carefully before purchasing.