Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Dangerous Book of Heroes Book Review by ChristineMM

The Dangerous Book of Heroes

Authors: Conn Iggulden and David Iggulden

Publication: William Morrow, Harper Collins, April 2010

Genre: Non-fiction, ages 18 and up (per publisher’s website 5/23/10)

My Star Rating: 1 star out of 5 = I Hate It

Summary Statement: BUYER BEWARE This is NOT a Children’s Book! For ages 18+ per the Publisher! Numerous Reasons Why I Hate This Book Besides That Issue!

I began reading an advance reading copy of this book two months ago and hated the book by the third story. I have picked the book up over and over and cannot bring myself to read every single page. I skimmed the book over last week and still can’t stand it.

The first confusing point is the authors first found publishing success by publishing a book for young BOYS called THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS marketed to kids aged 9-12. That book was a rehash of hands on activities and crafts that boys did a hundred years ago such as could be found in old books like THE AMERICAN BOYS HANDY BOOK. I was happily surprised at the success of that first book since to me it was a shorter, watered down re-write of books out of print but in the public domain and others still in print. But, if readers loved it, bought it for their grandkids, that’s fine.

THE DANGEROUS BOOK OF HEROES has mature content and the thought of minors reading this and clothed in story about a hero horrifies me. Today I checked the publisher’s website and it states the MARKETING AUDIENCE FOR THIS BOOK IS “18 AND UP”. I am totally CONFUSED as to why the publisher would publish a book for adults with mature content as part of a series of books that was marketed to boys ages 9-12 (or girls in the case of the DANGEROUS BOOK FOR GIRLS which was the second in the series).

I’m a homeschooling mother who often uses older books and who appreciates some of the good things about days gone by such as the old methods of schooling, the quality of some of the children’s books and the moral thread that ran through stories for children. One thing that was common that has fallen out of fashion is boys used to read lots of stories about heroes. I was hoping this book was attempting to introduce today’s children to heroes, modern heroes and heroes of long ago, so they would be inspired. I had high hopes for this book.

As explained in the last chapter “Heroes”, heroes are imperfect people who sometimes have their heroic moment quickly; their endeavors are not always life-long pursuits. Heroes are flawed people. I agree with this but have problems with the fact that this book GLORIFIES THE BAD ASPECTS OF SOME HEROES in a way that, to me, reads more like MORAL RELATIVISM -- “don’t judge them for this misdeeds or sins, immoral behavior, or the crimes they committed or the dangerous actions they took” but to be inspired or to look up to everything they did. It reads like “there is no right or wrong”. THIS IS THE OPPOSITE VIEW OF THE OLDER BOOKS ABOUT HEROES. While I don’t like my history scrubbed clean and therefore full of falsehoods I have an issue with providing mature content to young readers who do need some moral and ethical elements in their formative years.

Even if you have no problem with the things I’ve said so far or the examples that I’ll share in a minute, there are a few other issues with this story collection that makes me dislike the book.

First to explain, this is a story collection of biography sketches. There are 34 stories and the shortest are seven pages and there are four over twenty pages. If you’re curious, nearly all are men (this is not a factor in my negative opinion of this book but maybe other readers would take issue with it).

These stories are about people from around the world and from old times and from people whose heroic acts were in the 1990s and 2000s. I have no issue with diversity but the book is confusing with its randomness.

First there seems to be no organization to the order in which the biographies appear in the book. They jump from long ago to modern and all around. They jump from one country to another. The stories don’t make clear exactly where the person is from but references are made that the reader is supposed to figure out. As a pretty well-read forty-something mother I didn’t even know of these references (being an American) so I don’t know how kids would (especially American kids or 18 year olds). The book lacks context and confuses the reader. The authors assume the readers know more history and geography than they probably do. Saying someone was in Windsor, where is that? (page 27) Fiennes in Eton, where is that? (page 28) Fiennes found the “lost city of Ubar” in 1992, I’d never heard of it, where is that? (page 32) The authors presently live in England and Australia. Possibly the issue is their knowledge base is different than Americans and they assume the American readers know more than we do to put these biographies in context?

The stories are unevenly paced, at points focusing on action and other times bogged too far down by details (George Washington). Sometimes there are so many dates and brief historical mentions that it is incredibly boring (George Washington). I was unable to get a real sense for the heroes as people when they were so mixed in with dates and historical references. Yet the historical references didn’t resolve the issue of the uninformed reader on the history, possibly because the way it was told was just boring and seemed to shut off my ability to connect with the story. (This is hard to explain but it’s what I felt after reading it.) I didn’t really feel the authors were connecting the reader to really care about the hero which truly is the hallmark of good writing (and something that is difficult to do well). We need to connect with these heroes to be inspired by their heroic acts. (A contrast is the successful writing in narrative format of non-fiction historical information by JOY HAKIM in her HISTORY OF US series in which we feel more connected to people who came before us.)

The authors seem to like the idea of shocking the reader with the badness of the hero. I wasn’t won over to admire these heroes knowing this level of detail. Again the mature content and glorification of things both physically dangerous and crime committing is not something I want my boys or even young men (age 18-ish) to look up to.

Examples of Details I Hated

Sir Ranulph Fiennes:

Had frostbite after hiking at the North Pole, visited a doctor in England who postponed the surgery, was in dire pain.

Cut of his own fingers at the first knuckle using a hack saw in his tool shed to get the surgery done faster. I was horrified at the level of detail including that a hacksaw was too slow and agonizing so he switched to using a Black & Decker fretsaw. (page 32-33)

Sir Richard Burton:

He felt “jolly” after murdering a man.

“He was convinced women enjoy sexual activity as much as men, a very unfashionable idea in Victorian England”.

Page 36:

Saying he enjoyed drugs and alcohol: khat, opium, cannabis

At age 5 the two brother knocked their nanny down and ‘trampled them with their boots’

At age 9 shot windows out of a church and said ‘obscene’ remarks to girls

As a boy all pocket money was spent on prostitutes

Page 38:

As an adult, enjoyed brothels in India

Had an “exploration of sexual matters” and wrote about them

He “freely enjoyed all the pleasures of the senses” and Tantricism (tantric sex)

Later became Catholic then switched to being Muslim (went in and out of many religions)

Page 40:

Investigated a male brothel in India when working as a reporter and some said what he knew could only be known by someone who participated in the acts first-hand

Had an affair with a Persian woman that ended ‘abruptly’ with a ‘violent end’.


Then left his ‘regular mistress behind in Sindh and spent some time trying to get a nun out of a local convent to be his next one”

Broke into a nun’s bedroom at night, was in the wrong room, was chased by an elderly nun, and he got rid of her by pushing her into a river.

Translated the Kama Sutra, explains to readers this is an Indian sex manual (page 43) NOTE: If kids hear this information a quick Internet search will reveal what essentially is pornography illegal in USA for those under 21 years of age.


In summary I feel this book is not appropriate for readers under age 18. Honestly I don’t know if readers over 18 and in their 20s really want to read about heroes. I think minor-aged boys should read about heroes but for good stories that inspire and uplift them in their FORMATIVE YEARS, parents and teachers need to look elsewhere.

(If I hear about parents and teachers buying this book for use with minor aged kids you may see steam coming out of my ears.)


I rate this book 1 star = I Hate It.

Disclosure Statement: I received an advance review copy of this book from Amazon Vine product review program for the purpose of reviewing the book on the site. I was not paid to write this review. I was not obligated to also blog this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.


PETER said...

AND page 305;

"In addition, the dropping of hydrogen bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that August....."

Ummmm the first hydrogen bomb was detonated in 1952. Those were atomic bombs.

DWD said...

I felt much the same about this book. I am confused by the marketing of this book - officially aimed at adults but clearly written with the title of a series written for kids.

I was hoping to donate my copy of this book to my daughter's elementary school library, despite the occassional inaccuracies. But, the story of Sir Richard Burton convinced me that that would be a bad idea.


DWD said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and reading my review. I was not sure if you were able to automatically get my reply to your post so I thought I would post it here as well.

I also received this book as part of the Amazon Vine program and I let it sit on my gigantic pile of books for too long. I just pulled it out this week and was not horribly impressed, as you could see from my review. I posted it on as well. As of right now, it is the only 2 star review.

I found your back and forth with one of the authors in the comments section to be quite enlightening. I actually linked them to my review on my blog.

As I said in my review, I am not for hiding the shortcomings of heroes, but I am also not for celebrating those same shortcomings simply because the person is (or was) famous.


Dustin Mullenix said...

Thank you for giving specific examples of what you found objectionable in the book. This helps me know that our young boys do not need to read it. You saved me a lot of time with your review, and also potential heartache with exposing them to things well beyond their respective maturity levels.