Scouting the handbook

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal I assess the state of the Boy Scout Handbook after 100 years of revisions:

Scouts founders hoped the BSA could remain above politics and address character. They couldn’t anticipate the day when a future honorary Scout president would insist that the word “is” has debatable meanings.


And yes, if you read all the way to the byline, you’ll see I have a book coming out this spring. I’m sorry, dear readers, that you had to find out from someone else like that. I kept meaning to tell you, but then I thought I’d wait until I could get some nifty buttons for you to click through to each of the major booksellers who have it available for pre-order, and then we got some lovely new cover art and so I figured I should wait until that was what one sees at the booksellers’ websites, and so on and so on, and so now you know. It’s a memoir called Somewhere More Holy, and in every chapter I tell the stories of a room in our house, the death and life, the mourning and joy, faith gained and lost and somehow found again.

So if you’re suitably inclined, feel free to skip on over to one of the following booksellers and get yourself a copy on pre-order, at a discount over the list price. Who knows, if you get enough of your friends and neighbors to buy a copy, maybe I’ll come visit your neck of the woods, eat some of your food, and tell you some stories.


Barnes & Noble




  1. Tony H.

    Mr. Woodlief,
    While I no longer live in the US, the “sissification” of the Scouts, and of American boys in general, is indeed depressing. I would recommend replacing or supplementing the Scout Handbook with “The Dangerous Book for Boys” and plan to raise my soon-to-be-born son with many of the lessons contained therein. Thank you for your review and for all of your thoughtful writings.

  2. Nick Stuart

    I was a troop committee chairman for 10 years (still on the committee even though my sons long ago swapped their scout uniforms for Army ACUs).

    Do not make the mistake so many parents make of “I’m going to let my son pick his trooop” or (moms are famous for this one) “he’s got a group of friends and they all want to stick together”

    YOU identify three troops that you believe have solid programs and in which your scout won’t get lost in the shuffle, then let your son pick from among them.

    As for the “group of friends” within a year they’ll mostly or all be gone, and you son will be the only one left in a troop that may or may not suit him.

    Looking at your links we probably have a lot in common, you’ve got my email, contact me if you want to talk further.

  3. Steve West

    Hi Tony. I really enjoy your writing! I’m looking forward to the new book.

    Is there anyway to obtain an advance copy? I’d like to review it for by blog, at least, but also perhaps for publication. I have often done that on my blog and, sometimes, when there is interest, for publication. I’m glad to buy a copy.

    All the best!

  4. Devin Mork

    That was a very enlightening article regarding the BSA Handbook. I was in boyscouts for a while. I didn’t make eagle, but the experiences from that institution were very beneficial to me.

    I’m looking forward to your book. I can’t wait to have Woodlief on my shelf.

  5. Marc V

    I’m also looking forward to your memoir (aren’t you a little young for that kind of thing 😉 ) but I’m not sure if I can get many other copies sold. I can easily sway you to visit Piedmont NC with the magical letters: BBQ. It’s a shame you didn’t visit the other night, as there were plenty of seats available at the Deany Dome for the near-cellar dwellers. [ouch]

    My oldest was in a Scout troop for a year or so, but it was too small and there were no other boys near his age. I suppose I could look for other troops, but I’m not big on camping (roughing it for me is a Holiday Inn without a pool) so I have not pushed it. I will check into that “Dangerous Book for Boys”. Hmm, maybe I can arrange a discount for buying both DBFB and “Somewhere More Holy”?

    Reading about the PETA yohos objecting to fishing was upsetting. They’d be the people on “Survivor” who would let other people do the work of catching food and building shelters while they stretched out on the beach. It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between people who have had success on “Survivor” and if they participated in Scouts. Unfortunately, political skills are more important in “Survivor” than actual survival skills.

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  7. Rock Throwing Peasant

    I think the advice about “scouting” programs is a great idea.

    Also, be prepared for the call to volunteer. I was never a scout, but I became the Cubmaster for my sons’ Pack. The Pack didn’t do much camping and didn’t have much in spirit building.

    I attended Wood Badge training and developed a vision for the Pack that incorporated camping, den cheers, den flags, conservation (which I differentiate in my own mind from environmentalism), patriotism, and FUN.

    My point is, you can effect your son’s scouting experience by volunteering. I remember a story from a few years ago about a tornado that ripped through a camping area. From MSNBC:

    When the howling winds finally died down, the Boy Scouts — true to their motto, “Be Prepared” — sprang into action.

    Putting their first-aid training to use, they applied tourniquets and gauze to the injured. Some began digging victims from the rubble of a collapsed fireplace. And others broke into an equipment shed, seized chainsaws and other tools, and began clearing fallen trees from a road.

    Sounds like those scouts had active adult leadership who emphasized duty, teamwork, problem-solving and familiarity with tools and worst-case scenarios.

    Given what you’ve written about, I think Scouts is even more important. As fathers, we aren’t just supposed to raise our children to be adults. We are raising future fathers and husbands, who will need the tools to be effective in those very important roles. There is no trade school for Fathering.

    I discussed it before on this site, though I don’t expect folks to remember. A book I read, Raising a Modern Day Knight, really drove home the idea that if we don’t accept the responsibility of raising future fathers and husbands, then we are making the life of our grandchildren that much harder. Scouts is a useful tool for fathers, like me, who didn’t have a gameplan laid out when the boys started to arrive.

    I hope you get involved in Scouts. I genuinely hope you become a volunteer and shape the experience in a way that isn’t sissified, but fun and masculine – making fires, cleaning fish, shooting the bow and arrow and bee-bee gun, cracking jokes, pride in appearance, integrity above gain, seeing jobs to the end, etc.

  8. Greg Neal

    I am an Eagle Scout, now in my 50s. Fear not, Boy Scouts are still just that, boys.

    The Boy Scout troop of my youth expressed all the same problems that adolescent boys do today: surging hormones, competitiveness, in/out group biases, and a knack for mischievousness.

    All boys need direction and structure. Boy Scout programs are good at providing this. I don’t recall my young Scout peers being much concerned about politics or religion. We were much more interested in sports, camping, whatever. And although we’d “fall into line” upon command, many would do so giggling. We were no more automatons than any other organization of kids.

    And while one older boy in our troop was known to be gay, I don’t recall that he was teased about it. After all, he had a car!

    If today’s Scouts are more conscious of natural resource limitations and a bit more accepting of beans (tofu) and rice in their backpacks, no harm is done. They will still prefer cookies to cornmeal and sneak a beer when they can.

  9. Michael J

    Thanks for your positive and thoughtful Journal piece on Scouting. I got my Eagle badge in 1959 and my sons (19, 21, and 23) are all Eagles, too. I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster at their (former) troop in Northwest DC. You will like Cubs, but love Scouting. One nice feature of both is the chance to spend time around your kids in a non-parental role. Your Eagle Scout friend, Nick, and Rock Throwing Peasant offer good advice. I also got to experience some great adventures, including Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, that we couldn’t afford when I was a Kid.

    Much of the history, diagrams, and how-to that used to be in the Handbook is now in the Scout Fieldbook, which doesn’t get enough use. I like outings better than meetings, and when I am in the field with the boys, as an amateur naturalist, I just try to just get them to see what is in front of them.


  10. Ronald

    Mr. Woodlief – I thought you had already said it was forthcoming (but it was great to go from the WSJ piece to the Zondervan page to read more details). It sounds as if, through your stories, you return someplace so common as a family’s home to the realm of holiness – or rather, an awareness of the holiness that was there all along. Sounds like something I need. I’m looking forward to it very much. Peace.

  11. Michele Tomarelli


    The Equal Rights Amendment was not passed. It was defeated by men who voted against it because, “My wife’s minister said it was a bad idea.” I kid you not.

    Even if it had been, you can’t blame the sissifiction of Boy Scouts on the women’s movement, as we were trying to escape from the vapidness demanded of girls in that period and back to the tough independence of the original Girl Scout Manual. Like the original Boy Scout Manual, the early Girl Scout Manual insisted that girls be brave and competent, able to tie up bandits with 8 inches of string, and make their own bows and arrows. I think the problem has been sissification of people generally.

  12. Tony


    You’ll note I wrote in my WSJ essay that the ERA was passed by Congress, which is indeed what happened in 1972. An amendment to the Constitution, however, requires ratification by 3/4 of the states, at which point, of course the ERA failed miserably, perhaps in part for the reason you state, but no doubt for a host of reasons.

    About the need for fewer sissies in both sexes, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  13. Michele Tomarelli

    So you did. I’m not sure I agree with you about failing miserably, however: 38 states were needed to ratify, and we had 35.

  14. Tony

    You’re right Michele, “miserably” is an errant word choice. Thirty-five states indeed ratified it, though five rescinded their ratifications in subsequent years. Still, we came closer to having that amendment than I’d originally thought. Thanks for the correction.

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