'A trained scout will see little signs and tracks, he puts them together in his mind and quickly reads a meaning from them such as an untrained man would never arrive at.' A startling amalgam of Zulu war-cry and imperial and urban myth, of borrowed tips on health and hygiene, and object lessons in woodcraft, Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys (1908) is the original blueprint and 'self-instructor' of the Boy Scout Movement. An all-time bestseller in the English-speaking world, second only to the Bible, this primer of 'yarns and pictures' constitutes probably the most influential manual for youth ever published. Yet the book is at the same time a roughly composed hodge-podge of jingoist lore and tracker legend, padded with lengthy quotations from adventure fiction and B-P's own autobiography, and seamed through with the multiple anxieties of its time: fears of degeneration, concerns about masculinity and self-restraint, invasion paranoia.
Elleke Boehmer's edition of Scouting for Boys is the first to reprint the original text and illustrations, and her fine introduction investigates a book that has been cited as an authority by militarists and pacifists, capitalists and environmentalists alike.
Elleke Boehmer is Hildred Carlile Professor in English at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author of many books and articles on postcolonial writing and theory. She has also written short stories and three novels, most recently Bloodlines.