The Dangerous Book for Boys may hit on two cultural taboos—sexism and endangering children—but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a bestseller in Britain. The book, by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden (Conn writes historical novels; Hal works in theater), explains everything from how to make a slingshot to the particulars of the Battle of Gettysburg. A year after its U.K. publication, The Dangerous Book is still in Amazon’s top 20, and HarperCollins will publish it in the U.S. in May, touting the publication with a video ad, Today Show appearance, Vanity Fair interview, and events at Borders and L.L.Bean.
Why did you and your brother write this book?
I wanted to write the kind of book that as a kid I could never find, [that would teach you] everything from building tree houses to growing crystals.
Can you explain the title?
It harks back deliberately to the attitude we had when we were young. Danger was a part of childhood, and if it didn’t exist we’d make it up. Back to that time when we didn’t have that level of "cotton ball" protection for children, when everything was exciting.
Do you think excluding girls is a little un-PC?
We’re not exactly excluding girls; we’re celebrating boys. Nothing wrong with that. We put everything we know about girls into the book and it came to a page.
Did you model the book on anything?
We did have a few things. We had books like 101 Chemical Amusements and Blast Power & Ballistics, that sort of business. And The Wonder Book of Wonders. But they were never in one book. I wanted to put it all together. We used to joke that the book would give you the design to build a tree house and then a book to read while you’re up in it. It did get a little bit wider as we started writing. As adults there were some things—like stories of courage, and chapters on grammar—that we didn’t want to be forgotten.
HarperCollins is pitching the book as appealing to both men and boys.
The oldest reader I’ve had a letter from is an 87-year-old man; the youngest is eight. That’s a hell of a range. I’m very pleased by that. I really like the idea that it’ll be found in some attic someday.
What do you think it is about this book that’s resonating with today’s kids, who clearly have a lot more than a book on how to tie knots vying for their attention?
A lot of parents are getting fed up with an overly restricted attitude for their children, much of that coming from their government. Paper airplanes are being banned in the schools for fear of someone poking their eye out. That sort of thing is slightly annoying and really isn’t good for children, especially boys. They have to learn where their own limits are. We’re taking about managed danger here. We don’t want them running out under cars. But if they don’t [learn what their limits are], God knows what sort of pale, white, fat adults they’ll become.