"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Dangerous Book of Heroes by Conn Iggulden and David Iggulden

Oh, how I wanted to be able to recommend this book!

As a history teacher I often decry the politically and factually correct, but dreadfully dry and boring history textbooks. I was hoping that this book, The Dangerous Book of Heroes, could be a popular antidote and a return to the famous Landmark books series that I grew up reading. Mostly, A Dangerous Book of Heroes is just that - a collection of biographies - some just a few pages, some longer. They are illustrated with the same kind of line drawings that I remember from the Landmark books.

But, this book does have a danger to it, and not the tongue-in-cheek kind suggested by the title. The publisher has declared that it's target audience is 18 years old and above. If this was truly was aimed at high school seniors and college students, we have become an illiterate society indeed. Not that this book is horrible, it is just simplistic. College students should be reading real biographies, not 8 page biographical sketches complete with line drawings.


Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton
(1821-1890)
One of the authors claims it is aimed at 14 year olds and above. Sadly, the series is aimed at pre-teens and some of the topics discussed are just not appropriate for elementary school students, especially in the story about "Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton."

In fact, if it were not for this entry, I'd recommend the book for pre-teens and older. However, the Burton entry is full of references to drug experimentation, frequenting prostitutes, male and female brothels, spousal murder, the Kama Sutra - unnecessary references in a biography that was already so laden full of facts that it had bogged down and became an endless list, much like a bad powerpoint presentation with an endless supply of bulletpoint entries.

Note, I am not squeamish when it comes to teaching kids history. When I teach world history, we discuss, among other things, facts like Alexander the Great's sexual orientation(s), how Nero kicked his wife to death, slave owners abusing their female slaves in America (and throughout time) and the slaughtering of thousands in the fall of Jerusalem and Constantinople. But, there is context in that presentation. In this book, it seems to glorify the negatives of Burton's personality - he's a hero so let's look at everything he did and celebrate all of it, the good and the bad.

Other issues that really are small compared to the issue of the Burton entry:

-Multiple references to the "sneak attack" on the "small British garrisons at Lexington and Concord." The way it is worded seems to imply that the Colonial militia attacked 2 forts rather than noting that 700 British regulars secretly marched out of Boston to take the munitions depot of the Colonial militia in Concord and were turned back by militia who were informed by spies (like Paul Revere) that the British army was on the move.

-He incorrectly notes that the Indians remained Loyalist and neutral in the Revolutionary War. Loyalist is a questionable concept - they were not pro-British so much as they were in favor of the British policy of not developing the Ohio River valley. For the Igguldens to comment that Indians did not work in conjunction with the British in the George Washington entry is to disagree with their own article on Daniel Boone. For those that doubt that the British worked in concert with Indians in the Ohio River Valley, read about Henry Hamilton the "Hair Buyer" Lt. Governor of Detroit who was believed to have paid bounties for white scalps in an effort to destroy the settlements in Kentucky.

-The "Forks of the Ohio" near Louisville were actually the "Falls of the Ohio". They are no longer there due to flood control dams.

-The atomic bombing of Japan was actually done with atomic bombs, not hydrogen bombs (much bigger than the A-bombs and, more importantly, they were not invented during World War II).

Those last areas of concern are relatively small and would not have much affected my review of this book. However, the Burton entry must be the reason the publisher is recommending the book for people 18 years and older and certainly is the reason that I would not recommend it for the age group that the rest of the Dangerous Book series is designed for.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on February 26, 2011.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for leaving a comment on my review on my blog. Thank goodness I'm not the only one. I have that review on Amazon.com. YOu should put yours there as a customer review also.

    Sad they used the title from the series which was read by elementary and middle school kids. Marketing gone wrong.

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  2. I posted it there as well. I saw your review and was interested in the comments from the author (I referenced them and linked them in my own review)

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