My Seven Favorite Things About the New Boy Scout Handbook

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One year and nine months after I was asked to work on the 13th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, the book is now a reality. It should be in a Scout Shop near you, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy soon if you haven’t already.

While some of the content has been carried over from the 12th edition, written by fellow Eagle Scout Robert Birkby, much of it is entirely new, as is the book’s design. (The 12th edition featured vintage graphics from all the previous editions, which worked well during the BSA’s Centennial Celebration but feels somewhat dated six years later.)

Now that the book is out, I thought I’d share my favorite features (not all of which I wrote!):

  1. The Chief Scout Executive’s letter (page 3), in which Mike Surbaugh explains how a chance encounter with the Boy Scout Handbook in elementary school launched his Scouting career. That story reminds me that we veterans sometimes forget how magical Scouting can seem to a new Scout.
  2. The STEM sidebars. In keeping with the BSA’s increasing emphasis on STEM, we’ve peppered the book with sidebars that illustrate the science, technology, engineering, and math behind what we already do in Scouting. I enjoyed learning and writing about topics like the technology behind sleeping bag ratings (page 278) and the math used in estimating wildlife populations (page 206).
  3. The practical camping techniques. I loved having the chance to add information I learned at Philmont about the “bearmuda triangle” (page 285) and the caterpillar technique for climbing big hills (page 250).
  4. The fun facts about nature we’ve added to the book. Since a book with national reach can’t possibly give Scouts much nature information that’s specific to their region–most National Audubon Society field guides are bigger than the Boy Scout Handbook–we’ve included tidbits that I hope will whet Scouts’ appetite for learning more. On page 195, they’ll learn about a tree that can live up to 5,000 years; on page 202, they’ll learn about an animal that travels just 55 yards an hour.
  5. The information on food safety in the cooking chapter, including a discussion of the difference between sell-by, best-before, and use-by dates (which many adults don’t understand). I’ve seen enough questionable cooking practices on campouts to know this and other food-safety information is definitely needed.
  6. The advancement sidebars throughout the book, which draw direct ties between what Scouts are reading and specific rank requirements and merit badges. I hope these sidebars will prompt Scouts to pursue merit badges they’ve never considered earning.
  7. My name on page 466. Okay, that probably only matters to me, but it still goes on the list!

By the way, Mike Surbaugh is not the only person whose life was changed by the Boy Scout Handbook. Nobel Prize winner E.O. Wilson, the father of biodiversity, credited his interest in science to the book. It’s fun to imagine how the new edition could impact the lives of today’s Scouts the way previous editions impacted Wilson, Surbaugh, and millions of other Scouts.

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6 thoughts on “My Seven Favorite Things About the New Boy Scout Handbook

  1. John Hartzell

    A good handbook, and a positive evolution. The expansion of logs in the back for Scouts is a nice touch (added hiking and merit badges, and added more pages for camping service projects). But, my Scouts miss the page references from the advancement requirements from the 12th edition. Perhaps they can make a return in a future re-printing?

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