"The Dangerous Book for Boys" by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden (Collins Publishers, $24.95, 288 pages)
Life has become too safe. This is the premise of "The Dangerous Book for Boys," a compendium of all the things boys used to know and don't any more -- how to tie knots, make invisible ink, fly the world's greatest paper airplane and the like. The authors' introduction is titled "I Didn't Have This Book as a Boy," and this is the reason the book was a runaway best-seller in England and is already on the best-seller lists in the United States. Parents will snatch it up as an antidote to all the couch-potatoism they complain about.
The book is explicitly anti-video game; when the authors add up the costs of building a decent treehouse, they comment that for this money you could buy a video game, but why would you when you could have a fort?
Besides the how-to instructions, there are chapters on the Navajo code-talkers, Latin phrases every boy should know, great battles with all the gruesome bits left in, scientific information -- in short, all the things boys have traditionally found gripping.
Within the anti-safety premise, the authors are responsible. There is advice about first aid, because if you're not hurting yourself occasionally, you're not getting out enough.
The instructions on building a treehouse are explicitly intended to build a place that will last 20 years and never fall down. Their idea is that anything worth doing is worth doing well. That's an old-fashioned idea, but one worth promoting.