Engineer, author, and Maker (and Farm School favorite) William Gurstelle‘s latest book, Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, is just out from Chicago Review Press and made a big splash in this week’s New York Times, reviewed with enthusiasm by Dwight Garner. From which,
Mr. Gurstelle exactingly describes how to make your own gunpowder, a substance he calls “the most significant chemical compound mankind has ever developed.” It’s the foundation for many of his book’s activities, the same way the perfect fish stock undergirds dozens of recipes in a cookbook.
Making even small quantities of gunpowder, he adds, “puts you in the rarefied company of such important historical figures as Joan of Arc, Roger Bacon, Mark the Greek, Lammot du Pont, Black Berthold and Leonardo da Vinci.” From there, he’s on to making things like fuses, rockets and an eprouvette, or small cannon.
According to the review, Mr. Gurstelle was inspired in part by a 2005 op-ed piece in The Times by David Brooks, who wrote about the new age of the lily-livered, in which we find ourselves, “I blame parents. Kids are raised amid foam corner protectors and schooled amid flame-retardant construction paper. They’re drugged with a vast array of pharmaceuticals to keep them from becoming interesting. They go from adult-structured tutorials to highly padded sports practices to career-counselor-approved summer internships.” Garner notes that Absinthe and Flamethrowers ends with its own call to arms,
Mr. Gurstelle’s own kind of Declaration of Independence, one perhaps worth reading aloud on the Fourth of July, ideally after strapping a battered football helmet onto your head so you look a bit like B. D. from “Doonesbury. “We, the intellectually curious, may soon find ourselves trapped in a pen, fenced in by rule-bound sticklerism and overzealous concern for our personal safety, unless we exercise our civil liberties and our curiosity,” he declaims. And so, “It’s time to retake authority from those whose goals are to limit, not expand, intellectual and physical pursuits.”
Bravo, sir. It’s the kind of speech you want to punctuate with a potato cannon blast.
And which gives new meaning to “the land of the free and home of the brave”.
For some families, the new book sounds like a dandy Father’s Day present or a good way to start off summer vacation. As for us, well, I have to have a talk with Tom, who the boys informed me last night has plans to take them and their new inflatable dinghy (on sale at the hardware store this week) down the river this weekend. I don’t think Tom or the boys need any more convincing.
By the way, speaking of Father’s Day, Bill Gurstelle recently finished a stint guest blogging at GeekDad (don’t miss his post on “25 Movies with Catapults”, complete with Latin quote) and is in the midst of guest blogging at BoingBoing.
Related Farm School posts (all of which can be found under the “Courting Danger” tab above)
Other fun William Gurstelle links:
Bill Gurstelle’s blog, “Notes from the Technology Underground”
Bill Gurstelle on Twitter, which I still don’t care for, but he’s there if you want him
Make: television on PBS, which we don’t get but would like if we did (we don’t get even get our two channels anymore, since the wind twisted our antenna the other weekend; Tom and the kids zipped over to his parents’ last night to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, the first hockey they’ve watched in weeks.)
A recent interview with Bill Gurstelle by Harry Sawyers at Popular Mechanics. In response to Sawyers’ question, who is the book for, Gurstelle replies, “ We’re all the progeny of generations of people who took risks. The immigrants who came to America were incredible risk-takers. As a society, we’ve gotten comfortable, and fewer daily risks are necessary. This book is for someone who wants to become a risk taker.”