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Best Survival and Prepper Books

We’ve spent countless hours reviewing over 100 books so you don’t waste time and money. There’s an overwhelming amount of books for emergency preparedness. But a lot of them are derivative junk that spend more time on politics and Doomsday Porn than actually helpful advice — or worse, some actually give harmful prepping advice. We used our years of experience as preppers, survival instructors, and authors to curate the best books for you.

Top Pick
Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens
Great for beginners:

Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens

One of the best overall introductions to household preparedness for the beginning prepper. Useful for families. Great gift to non-preppers. Covers how to shelter in place in a variety of situations.
Just in Case is one of the best books on household preparedness and overall introduction to prepping we’ve ever found. It’s especially useful for families, and a good choice to give people you care about who haven’t yet started preparing. Just in Case covers how to shelter in place under a wide variety of circumstances and how to prepare and decide to bug out if you need to. It doesn’t cover as much of what to do after bugging out. It does preach a “use and replace” supply cycle, which we have some issue with because life gets in the way and interrupts the cycle, potentially leaving you unprepared when you need it.

Top Pick
SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere
Great for Bug Out Bags:

SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere

Popular choice among preppers. Excellent survival manual that fits nicely in a Bug Out Bag. Wisemen prepares you to survive in literally any situation. Focus on mental strength and skills, not just gear.
A classic work on how to survive in any environment, SAS Survival Handbook is a favorite across the spectrum of the prepper movement. It picks up where Just in Case leaves off. There’s not much about sheltering in place, but plenty about what to do after bugging out. Small size that fits great in a Bug Out Bag.

Top Pick
The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for ANY Disaster
When there's no help coming:

The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for ANY Disaster

Written by a retired medical doctor and nurse practitioner, this great beginners guide is better than most because it doesn't assume help is on the way.
The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide by Joseph and Amy Alton, a husband/wife and doctor/nurse duo, respectively, is the best book for laypeople on how to help if there is no way to reach medical professionals or a modern medical setting. Most emergency first aid books cover stabilizing and transporting the sick and injured to hospitals. In emergency scenarios where there is no hospital or help, the buck may stop with you. This is the book you’ll want if that time comes.

Why you should trust us

This list is curated by preppers and survival instructors with 15 years of combined experience. Some are writers themselves, actively publishing prepping related material while working day jobs as university-level English professors.

Sarah Avery. Escaped academic with a Ph.D. in English Literature, decades of teaching experience, and award-winning fiction author. Started prepping after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey.
John Adama. Founder of The Prepared. Prepping for 13 years and teaching survival skills for 10 years. Worked for DoD and White House on emergency technology and related issues like economic decline.

How we picked and reviewed the best prepper books

Our goal with this curated list is to separate the noise from the value so you can quickly find the best books. It’s a little different than our other reviews — there’s just too many books to have an exhaustive list of winners and losers. Absence from this list doesn’t necessarily mean a book is bad.

We’ve spent over 52 hours, considered hundreds of books, and read or at least partially reviewed most of them. It’d be great if we could fully read every book about preparedness and survival, but unfortunately that’s just not possible. We bought or borrowed every book, unless specifically noted in a review.

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Our search began by scouring the web for book lists, tallying frequently named and popular books in prepper forums and blogs, and poring over Amazon’s bestseller lists in relevant categories. We also asked other experienced preppers what books they’ve read and recommend. Then we looked at recommended reading lists in books we already knew and respected, consulted librarians, and took a hard look at our own collections.

Once we had our long list, we divided books into categories that made sense to us, and started culling.

Sometimes it’s easy to quickly tell if a book will be good or not — for example, it’s pretty easy to judge a self-published “prepper” book with amateur clip art on the cover and a sole focus on severe Doomsday scenarios. Beyond those quick smell tests, we used these criteria:

  • Info that applies to most people rather than specialized expert knowledge.
  • More recent books over older books.
  • Books in print over books out of print.
  • Little or no political partisanship over more partisan books.
  • Books complete in themselves over books that referred to affiliated online or DVD materials.
  • Books from presses large enough to have a gatekeeping function over self-published books or books from micro-indie presses.
  • Books laid out to be easy on the eye and user-friendly, especially if the material relied heavily on diagrams or illustrations.
  • Books that encouraged problem solving over books that whipped up fear of problems.
  • Books that actually taught core concepts rather than memorization of meaningless lists.

That shortened the long list until it made sense to get our hands on some physical copies and read them. In a few cases, we found books so excellent in some particular way that we included them despite a questionable trait. In those cases, we noted the issue in the review.

Our best prepper and survival books list will be updated over time

The current list is just the beginning of what we plan for our book recommendations. Over the months and years to come, we’ll be adding some new releases, out-of-print classics, small-press or self-published diamonds in the rough, and whatever else stands out as excellent.

Have a favorite book? Leave a comment and let us know! We keep a tally of recommendations, and if we frequently see a book suggested, we’ll buy and review it.

Best household emergency preparedness and beginner prepper books

Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens

Kathy Harrison, Storey Publishing, 2008

Our Pick
Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens
Great for beginners:

Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens

One of the best overall introductions to household preparedness for the beginning prepper. Useful for families. Great gift to non-preppers. Covers how to shelter in place in a variety of situations.
In our assessment, this is the best overall introduction to household preparedness for the beginning prepper. Harrison packs an enormous range of readiness into a manageable, welcoming book by applying a seemingly simple system: Organize, Acquire, and Rotate. Rotating supplies involves practicing skills that use them, so the OAR cycle leads to a constant fine-tuning of skill.

Harrison opens the book with stories of two hypothetical families riding out a winter storm with a long power outage. The unprepared family’s experience is typical of what most Americans suffer when a natural disaster strikes. It’s miserable in ways that will be familiar to anyone who’s read newspaper accounts of real disasters. The prepared family has practiced all the skills they need for a week without electricity. They have what they need and they know where to find it. They experience the disaster as an adventure and emerge feeling empowered.

In the chapters that follow, Harrison leads the reader through an introduction to the OAR cycle as applied to the individual, the immediate family (including pets), the close social circle, the systems of the home itself, and the car. Then, with all those elements in mind, she walks you through several kinds of disaster, from the common (power outage, fire), to the rare (pandemic, terrorism). A final section lays out processes for developing and practicing skills she calls “The Arts of Self-Sufficiency” in everyday life.

The Prepper’s Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things You Can Do to Ready Your Home for Disaster

Bernie Carr, Ulysses Press, 2011

Our Pick

The Prepper’s Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things You Can Do to Ready Your Home for Disaster

A book about preparedness, not “prepping”. Breaks the big process of household prepping into bit-size pieces for beginners. It’s compact enough you can pop it in your pocket on the way to Home Depot.
This book focuses on preparing your home and family for sheltering in place, with the last chapter devoted to bugging out. Carr’s pocket guide is clear-eyed and practical. She starts by urging you to put your financial life in order before you spend any money on preparedness gear.

Begin with the likeliest disasters, she tells us. For most people, financial setbacks are more probable and frequent than natural or national disasters. She insists we should declutter before we bring anything new into our homes, because it doesn’t matter what you have if you can’t find it.

Carr organizes her 101 easy things into chapters covering all the basic survival needs. The book’s brevity makes it a good starting point for an overwhelmed beginner, or an easy book to carry on a commute. It can’t function as a one-volume prepper’s library in miniature. For that, you’d want a book with more coverage, and one whose scope doesn’t end when the decision to bug out begins.

Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit

Creek Stewart, Betterway Books, 2012

Our Pick

Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit

Comprehensive, versatile book on BOBs for preppers of all kinds. It’s useful both for beginners and longtime preppers looking to optimize their kit. Includes sections on special considerations like children and pets.
Creek Stewart is one of the most reputable prepper authors out there, and this book on Bug Out Bags was the beginning of what has become a small preparedness publishing and business empire. His years of teaching survival skills, hands-on, in the wilderness gives him a special claim on credibility. In a couple of places, he allows his right-of-center political perspective onto the page for a sentence or two, but he never lets it distract him from the book’s goal.

We disagree with framing Bug Out Bags as “72 hour kits” — in our own Bug Out Bag guidelines, we think assuming you’ll only need to survive for 72 hours is too limiting and assumes you know what will happen in the future.

The book is organized around ten categories of need: water, food, clothing, shelter/bedding, fire, first aid, hygiene, tools, lighting, communication, and protection. Each category’s chapter explains what makes that particular need so important, and then discusses a variety of items that can meet it.

Each item has its advantages and drawbacks (weight, ease of use, etc.). Which items are most appropriate depends on the user’s situation (traveling with children or elders, setting out from an urban or rural home), and on the local conditions the user sets out into (desert in summer, boreal forest in winter, etc.). Stewart makes it easy to use the particulars of your life to sort your options into a manageable packing list.

Additional chapters cover: selecting the pack itself, special concerns for traveling with pets, organization and maintenance of the BOB, mental preparedness, developing a plan, and practicing skills. It doesn’t matter what you have in your pack if you can’t find it or don’t know how to use it. The checklist pages at the end of the book are well laid out and easy to use.

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

Laurence Gonzales, W.W. Norton, 2017 (Reprint, 2004).

Our Pick

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

Stoicism for preppers. This book explores the strange, counterintuitive things the human mind does in emergencies. Some can save you, others can get you killed. Research based with fascinating case studies.
Your most important survival asset is your mind. Some people, through luck or flukes of personal history, seem to have an effortless knack for survival. Others’ impulses, although suitable for everyday life, lead all the wrong ways when disaster strikes. Laurence Gonzales devotes this book to discovering what the differences are between those two sets of people and their responses to their environments. He argues that, even for a person who has no knack for survival, it’s possible to learn the responses and habits of thought that the seemingly natural survivors have.

The first section of the book focuses on how disasters actually unfold and the range of things people do when caught up in them. The science of disaster produces answers that seem counterintuitive in our Hollywood-saturated society. Gonzales wraps complex concepts from cognitive science in real-life stories as exciting as any adventure novel.

The second section focuses more on cautionary tales and exemplary survivors. Each chapter’s arresting narratives can be boiled down to a common problem you can recognize when you’re caught in it — inflexibility of plan, bending the map, etc. — and habits of mind you can practice in everyday life that may help you stay alive and help others in an emergency.

Best field guides for your Bug Out Bag

SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere

John “Lofty” Wiseman, William Morrow Paperbacks, 2014

Our Pick
SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere
Great for Bug Out Bags:

SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere

Popular choice among preppers. Excellent survival manual that fits nicely in a Bug Out Bag. Wisemen prepares you to survive in literally any situation. Focus on mental strength and skills, not just gear.
The consensus across the prepper movement is that this is the best survival manual to bring with you if you need to evacuate. Our research so far confirms it. Wiseman sets out to prepare the reader to survive in literally any situation. That’s a tall order, especially in a single volume that can fit in a pack.

His three most important principles of learning for the survivor are will to live, knowledge, and kit, in that order. “Survival is, above all, a mental exercise,” he says. That’s the foundation of everything else he teaches. The chapters organized around the knowledge and kit for particular needs, environments, and events all assume the centrality of the will to live.

That’s fortunate, because the broad effort to offer information for every possible situation inevitably means that no one situation can be covered in depth. Consider where you live, what environment you’re likely to face, and which kinds of disasters are most common in your area. Prepare for the common case. The knowledge and kit, to use Wiseman’s terms, that you need for bugging out are very different from the knowledge and kit for sheltering in place. It’s worth it to have both a comprehensive book on the domestic side of survival, and another for roughing it.

That said, if you can only carry one how-to book on your back, the book that covers everything outside your home is the one to bring.

Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to over 200 Natural Foods

Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman, Sterling, 2009 (Reprint 1982)

Our Pick

Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to over 200 Natural Foods

Best field guide we’ve found for foraging in North American wilderness. Organized better than most foraging books, in a way that's meant for "I need to eat now" rather than a hobby.
The organization scheme for Edible Wild Plants is what sets it apart from other field guides. Whereas most field guides organize information by scientific Linnaean classification, Elias and Dykeman organize Edible Wild Plants around the seasons. If you’re hungry, lost, and standing in snow up to your knees, it does you no good to flip through photos showing summer growth. This book’s photos show you what you can eat right now and how to find it.

Every entry has simple graphics to show what it’s used for and what you need to do to eat it safely. If you have a fire, you can forage for plants that must be boiled to be break down toxins; if you’re limited to what you can eat cold, you know at a glance which plants, and which parts of them, are safe.

Indexes by scientific and common names, and by Linnaean characteristics, supplement the photo-rich seasonal core of the book. An introduction offers nutritional information, cooking techniques particular to wild foods, notes on Native American uses of wild plants, and a consideration of ethics, sustainability, and common sense. The ethics will be familiar if you hunt or fish: leave enough behind for the population to bounce back. Endangered and threatened plants are not included. Mushrooms and other fungi are not included because the dangers of misidentification are too common and serious. The book also has a section on common poisonous plants with warnings and symptoms, at the end where you can find it in a hurry.

Best survival food and water books

The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide: Harvest, Treat, and Store Your Most Vital Resource

Daisy Luther, Ulysses Press, 2015

Our Pick

The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide: Harvest, Treat, and Store Your Most Vital Resource

Compact, focused guide on water preparedness for home and bugging out. Includes small steps for beginners, big projects for longtime preppers, and instructions for water-related skills.
You don’t always need a natural disaster to have a water emergency. Human error and political malfeasance can happen in any kind of weather or terrain. Luther shows you how to do water tests on your everyday tap water, because it might not be as safe as you assume. Her tips for how to conserve water may, for readers in California and other progressive-but-arid climates, be old hat, but for those of us with limited drought experience, those sections are useful.

Check out our review of the best emergency water containers to cover your minimum two weeks of home supplies.

If you live in a water-rich area and have assumed that will carry you, it’s worth learning how to harvest the safest water and handle it in ways that will keep you and your family from getting sick. Filtration, purification, boiling, and other methods are all here, along with non-obvious information about storage containers and practices.

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat

Ellen Zachos, Storey Publishing, 2013

Our Pick

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat

Best book we’ve found on foraging in North American urban and suburban settings. Some plants are wild, but most are common in manmade environments. Use it to forage, or to design your stealthy home food forest.
The wilderness isn’t the only place to forage. If you ever need to find food in an urban or suburban environment, or you want to plan your own landscape to be a secret food forest, it’s good to know what common plants are safe and nutritious to eat. Moreover, humans have for centuries selectively bred our food crops to be sweeter and less fibrous than their native forebears, so that wild varieties of foods you can find at a grocery store may be much richer in nutrients and safer for your insulin levels than commercially available varieties.

After an introduction on the safety issues of foraging and the basics of plant identification, Zachos organizes most of her chapters around plant types and common edible parts, such as greens, nuts, and tubers. A final chapter details techniques for preparation and preservation of wild foods. The book is for readers interested in the current foraging trends, and requires no previous knowledge.

Best medical books for preppers

The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for Any Disaster

Joseph Alton, MD, and Amy Alton, ARNP, Skyhorse Publishing, 2015

Our Pick
The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for ANY Disaster
When there's no help coming:

The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for ANY Disaster

Written by a retired medical doctor and nurse practitioner, this great beginners guide is better than most because it doesn't assume help is on the way.
Most books on first aid focus on stabilizing and transporting the sick and injured, on the assumption that the goal is to get the patient to a modern medical setting. But what if no modern medical setting can be reached? The Altons, a retired medical doctor and nurse practitioner, respectively, wrote this book for readers with no previous medical background, to prepare them for situations of widespread emergency or social collapse.

Their case in point is Hurricane Katrina, after which hospitals were understaffed, undersupplied, and overwhelmed with patients in need. Even in temporary disasters, and certainly in long-term ones, laypeople can find that the buck stops with them. The authors’ goal is to help people become medical resources for their families and communities.

Sections on basic principles, prevention, and sanitation open the book. The following sections are organized by types of illness and injury that you’d find in an EMT textbook. The Altons present their information with an emphasis on flexibility and improvisation, training the eye and mind to find useful materials where no medical supplies are available. The book’s graphic design is a holdover from earlier editions, when the Altons self-published, with some whimsical use of obviously stock photos, but the quality of the book’s content outweighs those issues.

The final section on medications covers how to procure antibiotics that are safe for humans from veterinary sources, which do not require a medical license. Antibiotics raise issues of allergy, overuse, resistant microbes, and storage, all of which the Altons cover. Many preparedness books and sites try to cover antibiotic use for laypeople, but many of them give short shrift to these issues. It’s worth getting your information from medical professionals. The supply checklists for personal first aid kits, family first aid kits, and community clinics are the best we’ve seen.

The Complete Medicinal Herbal: A Practical Guide to the Healing Properties of Herbs

Penelope Ody, Dorling Kindersley, 1993

Our Pick
The Complete Medicinal Herbal: A Practical Guide to the Healing Properties of Herbs

The Complete Medicinal Herbal: A Practical Guide to the Healing Properties of Herbs

Covers how to make and use your own herbal medicines from scratch, with clearly illustrated instructions. Rich pictures help make sure you've got the right plant. Make sure you get the Dorling Kindersley edition.
Although there’s a 2017 edition of this book, the visuals in the 1993 edition are far superior, and so important, that it’s worth getting the out-of-print version. This is the only out-of-print book that made our list.

Richly photographed to ensure correct identification of plants and their parts, The Complete Medicinal Herbal is the most user-friendly of the serious herbal medicine books for laypeople that we’ve found. Whereas many herbal medicine resources give only an herb’s name along with the maladies it treats, Ody’s book details which plant parts are suitable, which kinds of preparations to use (infusion, decoction, ointment, etc.), even which season those parts should be harvested in what season, when that matters.

One major section is organized by plant, another by malady. Both are intuitively laid out. The shorter section on making the various kinds of preparations also abundantly photographed and detailed, assuming no previous knowledge of the techniques. The Complete Medicinal Herbal is beautifully designed and photographed enough to be a coffee table book, well enough researched and explained to be a practical medical reference (with the usual caveats about not being intended to take the place of a doctor’s advice).

Best tradecraft and survival skills books

The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair, 4th Edition (Black & Decker)

Editors of Cool Springs Press, 2016

Our Pick

Black & Decker The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair

Although there are a lot of general home repair books, this complete guide by Black & Decker is the top seller on Amazon in this category.
To prepare for common, small emergencies on the household scale, it’s worth having an up-to-date home repair manual. There are many manuals of this kind, and they generally cover the same things in similar ways. All other things being equal, we went with Amazon’s top seller in the category.

Ham Radio For Dummies, 2nd Edition

H. Ward Silver, For Dummies, 2013

Our Pick

Ham Radio for Dummies

When the grid goes down, Ham radio is the best reliable communication method. But it can get tricky and technical. Everything you need is in this book.
In the age of the internet, ham radio seems old school, but in grid-down emergencies ham radio can be a crucial means of communication. Modern ham radios can connect wirelessly to the internet to transmit data and images from places where no cellular service is available. Ham radio operators need a license, which requires sitting for an exam, so you need to learn more than you’re likely to use before you can legally get started. Everything you need is in this book.

See our own intro guide to Ham radio for emergency preparedness.

Best fieldcraft, homesteading, and gardening books

The Encyclopedia of Country Living, 40th Anniversary Edition: The Original Manual for Living off the Land & Doing It Yourself

Carla Emery, Sasquatch Books, 2012.

Our Pick

The Encyclopedia of Country Living, 40th Anniversary Edition

Traditional small-scale agriculture for homesteaders, in a current edition of a classic from the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s. It’s perfect for sheltering in place in rural areas.
Would-be homesteaders looking for an all-in-one book to get them started will find mention of a lot of beloved classic titles, most of which are now out of print. The best of the surviving titles is The Encyclopedia of Country Living, written as a first taste for beginners as well as a reference work for longtime homesteaders.

Most chapters are organized around categories of plants and animals — all dairy animals together, all garden vegetables together, and so forth. The individual entries are impressively comprehensive. An entry on, for instance, pears has information on the tree’s needs for soil pH and light, which varieties are suited to different planting zones, what insects need to be attracted for pollination, how to tend the trees and harvest the fruit, and numerous recipes to prepare and preserve the fruit. Entries for animals include all the analogous information, including breeding and butchering.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living doesn’t go into great depth about solar power or other off-grid sources of electricity. Emery’s approach to country living does not require it. If yours does, you will want to supplement with other books.

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Ed.

Toby Hemenway, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009.

Our Pick

Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

Intro to permaculture, a farming method that uses interplanting, insect management, and soil organisms to create manmade ecosystems. Start from zero and build a “food forest” that runs itself.
Toby Hemenway’s classic Gaia’s Garden is the classic introduction to permaculture. Even if you have no gardening experience, or have used more traditional row-based farming in the past, Gaia’s Garden gets you up to speed quickly. There’s detail for those who enjoy deep dives or have encountered specific issues that require them, broad overviews for readers trying to figure out what permaculture is, and garden plans with diagrams and photographs for visual thinkers and readers who want to get their hands in the soil as soon as possible.

Traditional agriculture, with its rowed crops, can require backbreaking work every season and requires a constant struggle against weeds and pests. By contrast, permaculture organizes plants, landscape features, and insects, into small human-made ecosystems. “Food Forests” interplant different species closely to meet each other’s needs, so chemical inputs are unnecessary. The early years of a permaculture landscape can involve backbreaking labor, digging up suburban grass lawns to build swales and berms, but an established food forest is mostly self-regulating.

Edible landscaping and permaculture aren’t quite synonymous, but there’s a lot of overlap. Preppers looking to turn their lawns into food sources should absolutely have this book in their libraries.

The Ultimate Prepper’s Guide: How to Make Sure the End of the World as We Know It Isn’t the End of Your World

Jay Cassell, Ed., Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

Our Pick

The Ultimate Prepper's Guide: How to Make Sure the End of the World as We Know It Isn’t the End of Your World

Tries to cover every skill and project you'd need after a total collapse. Growing and hunting food, tanning leather, making textiles, home maintenance, and even personal electricity.
This is a huge, thick book printed on light, cheap, acid-heavy paper. It has the space to go in-depth on topics you don’t always get to see in a one-stop-shopping book on this subject, but the printing materials are not durable, and may break down even if they sit unused on a shelf. What The Ultimate Prepper’s Guide has that other all-in-one prepping manuals don’t is a DIY/maker/life-hack approach. Case in point: the chapter on “How I Built an Electricity-Producing Wind Turbine.”

The Ultimate Prepper’s Guide does surprisingly well with images and diagrams, considering the paper quality. There’s more about homesteading than you usually see in books that aren’t specifically about homesteading. The book keeps its title’s promise to address the end of the world as we know it .

When writing on his own, Cassell specializes in books on hunting, fishing, and shooting. A heads-up to readers who are troubled by graphic explanations of how to disassemble dead animals or shoot living ones: Cassell and his team are clinical and thorough.

Best self defense books

When Violence Is the Answer: Learning How to Do What It Takes When Your Life Is at Stake

Tim Larkin, Little, Brown and Company, 2017

Our Pick

When Violence Is the Answer: Learning How to Do What It Takes When Your Life Is at Stake

Prepares your mind for vigorous self-defense. Includes techniques and tactics. This book is great for those who aren't comfortable with the thought of using violence to protect themselves or loved ones.
“Violence is rarely the answer,” Larkin begins, “but when it is, it’s the only answer.” Most of us can agree on the first part of that statement. Some of us would broaden it to say violence is never the answer, or is only an answer for trained and accountable law enforcement professionals. Larkin emphatically disagrees.

He sets out to persuade readers who have no idea how to use violence in self-defense or defense of others that they shouldn’t wait to change their thinking until a threat is upon them. Only if we look at violence as a neutral tool that doesn’t care who uses it or for what can we be prepared to use it for good. Although this is an argument that many people at the center and on the left of the political spectrum will find uncomfortable, Larkin’s argument is not a partisan one. The categories he cares about are social versus asocial.

In social violence, the combatants are operating in the same set of imagined rules, what’s at stake is usually position in the pecking order, and the violence may be disrupted by efforts to deescalate or intervene. In asocial violence, the aggressor doesn’t feel bound by the victim’s social norms. The violence may even be intended as an attack on the norms themselves. “At the end of the day,” says Larkin, “all violence has the potential to be a matter of life and death. The difference with asocial violence is that death and destruction are not its by-products; they are its purpose.” He proposes that everyone should be prepared to respond to asocial violence without hesitation with absolute commitment to self-defense.

Much of the book covers tactics and techniques to use when confronted with asocial violence. Tactics and techniques can be found in many places. What makes this book unusual is its focus on the psychological, emotional, and social patterns ingrained in us that make us hesitant to use violence. Larkin spends a good many pages also on how to tell when violence is social or asocial, and what behaviors might work to prevent violence from breaking out, or at least to avoid being in the most dangerous positions when it does.

100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation

Clint Emerson, Touchstone, 2015

Our Pick

100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation

What sets this book apart is its storyboard illustrations for every one of its 100 skills. The storyboards are utilitarian, easy to understand, and entertaining.
The most notable feature of 100 Deadly Skills is that each skill has a storyboard to illustrate when and how to use it. Anyone who searches on Pinterest for preparedness information will have seen some of those storyboards. Emerson’s goal is “not to enable a deadly class of citizens but to entertain while simultaneously imparting a body of knowledge that may come in handy in the absolute direst of emergencies.”

The entertainment part is well represented here, with sections titled “Steal a Plane” and “Wage Psychological Warfare.” Even if you never need to follow the storyboard to perform any of the more cinematic special ops skills, there are plenty that deal with smaller-scale interpersonal threats and violence. For instance, the sections on how to break your hands out of handcuffs, zip ties, and duct tape would be of interest to anyone concerned about home invasions.

The Total Gun Manual (Field & Stream): 335 Essential Shooting Skills

Phil Bourjaily and David Petzal, Weldon Owen, 2012

Our Pick

The Total Gun Manual (Field & Stream): 335 Essential Shooting Skills

Best book for those starting from scratch with firearms or want to plug gaps in their knowledge. Richly illustrated and photographed. The authors approach emphasizes responsible gun ownership.
There are plenty of books for people who already know about shooting, or know they enjoy it but want to get better at it. Not many books are out there that try to cover the full range of basic gun skills for readers who are starting from zero. The authors of The Total Gun Manual are unapologetically enthusiastic about their subject, which readers ambivalent about firearms may find off-putting. But ambivalent authors could not have written a book as comprehensive and easy to understand as this one. A prepper who has decided against owning firearms may still want to be informed about them.

All the gun jargon that can seem impenetrable elsewhere is explained clearly here. The large ideas, processes, and artifacts that go into being a skilled and responsible gun owner are broken down into manageable pieces. Diagrams, illustrations, and photographs are plentiful and useful. We looked at dozens of books on firearms for readers starting from zero background knowledge, and this was the only one that made the cut.

Best books about reasons and context for emergency preparedness

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Rebecca Solnit, Viking Penguin, 2010.

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A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Think people turn against each other as soon as SHTF? Wrong. This study of history shows that the anarchy Hollywood has taught us to expect doesn’t actually arrive.
Although Hollywood has trained us to expect anarchy after disasters, research shows that in real life, disaster-struck people immediately start organizing to take care of each other. Rebecca Solnit weaves together what she learned from interviewing disaster survivors with historical and sociological research to reveal a surprising, hopeful, and remarkably consistent pattern. Emergencies bring out the best in people — not just in individuals, but in communities spanning whole cities and regions, from the grassroots up. With the demands of everyday life taking a backseat to the challenges of survival and saving lives, ordinary people are free to organize themselves for mutual benefit. Survivors tend to recall these most challenging times of their lives as some of the most joyful and meaningful.

The countercurrent to that good news is that elites and leaders of institutions sometimes see the improvised bottom-up organization of their less elite fellow citizens as reason for panic. Elite panic can lead to violence and threats of violence, as when New Orleanians trying to evacuate after Hurricane Katrina were turned back at gunpoint by police from a wealthy suburb. Beliefs matter, Solnit reminds readers many times, and when people who have more resources believe that people who have fewer resources are savages, the haves tend to treat the have-nots savagely, and then to blame their victims.

Because beliefs matter, Solnit’s mission in this book is to replace Hollywood cliches with evidence. If we want to prepare for disasters, one thing to prepare for is an eruption of neighborly kindness. If we welcome it and foster it, we can fare well. If we ignore it and assume our neighbors are threats to our survival, we become part of the problem, and we lose out on the survival benefits of beloved community — to say nothing of what could be the time of our lives.

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath

Ted Koppel, Crown, 2015.

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Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath

The United States’ electrical grid is shockingly vulnerable to cyberattack. Famed journalist Koppel dives into the human and technical sides of the story. He sees the prepper movement as one source of hope.
This impressively researched warning about the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid seems, in 2017, simultaneously dated and urgent. The cyberattack on the United States hasn’t been on our electrical systems, but it has been disruptive enough to add to Koppel’s case that no institution, public or private, is prepared to withstand such an attack. The first section of Lights Out lays out the scope of the problem: the degree of the grid’s vulnerability, the surprising number of potential targets in need of defense, the ingenuity of our likely foes, the projections for how long it might take to restore power (months at least, perhaps two years).

The book’s second section, “A Nation Unprepared,” gives a dismaying picture of the many layers of public and private inertia that keep us from doing anything to protect the grid. No institution or organization comes out of this section of the book looking good, though many devoted individuals are shown trying heroically to get reluctant corporations and government entities to prepare against a cyberattack on the grid. Most private citizens, especially urban dwellers, look unlikely to outlast even the briefest of the disruptive scenarios Koppel’s sources predict.

Tentative hope arrives in the book’s third section, when Koppel travels the country to interview a diverse group of preppers. His research trip to interview high officials in the Church of Latter-Day Saints, who lead what is probably one of the most prepared demographics in the world, is a highlight of the book, and shows a model that any community could learn from. If the majority of Americans developed personal disaster plans, even without a lot of resources, that would be a huge change, but Koppel thinks it would still not be enough to get our population through two years with the grid mostly down.

If FEMA had a comprehensive plan for such a scenario and made sure every adult in the country knew what their part of that plan would be, we might have a brighter prognosis for recovery. But due to legislative gridlock, shortsighted industry lobbying, and the information overload in an executive branch trying to prepare for hundreds of kinds of threats at once, such a comprehensive plan is nowhere in sight. Koppel’s hope in 2015 was that the American people would demand a plan of their leaders that the nation prepare against a cyberattack on the grid, for both prevention and response.

The Prepared